The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Stop using barbaric and antiquated combination locks and escape the tyranny of the rotating dial!

The issue:

It’s quite slow and annoying to unlock a regular rotational combination lock.

Also, it’s easy to overshoot your target number and have to enter the combination all over again.

There are alternative types of locks, but few of them have the same form factor as the ubiquitous rotating-dial combination lock.

lock-rotate

Fig. 1: This combination lock is straightforward but annoying to unlock, usually requiring you spin the dial around completely at least 3 or 4 times.

Proposal:

So if you want to secure a locker with a faster and less annoying lock (and you don’t want to carry a key), what can you do?

Answer: we can design a lock where the combination is actually a series of motions on the shackle, rather than on the dial of the lock.

A normal lock only has two positions for the shackle: open and closed.

But this new lock could have a series of notches on the shackle to allow the person unlocking it to precisely enter a combination, as seen in Figure 2.

lock-pull

Fig. 2: A person unlocking this type of lock will just appear to be angrily fumbling with it, but they’re actually inputting the code: for example, “up one notch, up one notch, down one notch, up two notches.”

(The dial remains, but it’s just a decoy.)

PROS: Works as a drop-in replacement for any existing combination lock.

CONS: Might cost more? But otherwise, none.

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!

 

The secret language that they don’t want you to know: Oneglish (“1NGLISH”)—return English to its ancient roots with a new one-syllable version! Save hours every day. Also: how many syllables are in the English language, anyway? Answer: probably at least 972,465, if you believe the assumptions below!

The issue:

English has a large number of words with multiple syllables. We could save so much time if all these words were replaced with unique singlesyllable equivalents!

Proposal:

For example, in the section above, we would change the following words:

  • English -> Eng
  • number -> noim
  • multiple -> mult
  • syllable(s) –> syllb(s)
  • replace(d) -> roup(ed)
  • unique -> neek
  • single -> soing
  • equivalents(s) -> eevt(s)

The final result would be:

  • Eng has a large noim of words with mut syllbs. We could save so much time if all these words were rouped with neek soing-syllb eevts!

See Figure 1 for an illustration of how this would save time. This new language could be referred to as “Eng” or perhaps “one-glish” (or “1NGLISH”), as shown in Figure 2.

one-glish

Figure 1: The phrase “English words with multiple syllables” in normal English in blue (top) and 1NGLISH (or just “Eng”) in yellow (bottom). Note that the 1NGLISH version is approximately 25% faster to say in this totally fabricated figure.

english-one-syllable-logo-3

english-one-syllable-logo-1

Figure 2: Above: a couple of possible logos that resemble ones from a bankrupt Internet company. Effective advertisement and branding is important!

Obstacle #1: Is it feasible for large quantities of people to learn a new language?

Attempts at language reform / constructed languages have failed in the past.

For example, Esperanto (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto) never really took off.

But, there are a couple of successes worth pointing out here:

Obstacle #2: Are there even enough syllables for this to work?

How many possible syllables are there in the English Language?

Answer: a lot.

Depending on who you believe, there are around ~30 distinct vowel sounds and ~60 distinct possible consonants. A list with pronunciations is, as you might expect, available on Wikipedia:

However, a lot of these are almost indistinguishable to an English speaker. I have pared a list down to:

  • 23 vowels
  • 23 consonants
  • (This doesn’t include things like “clicks” and other possible sounds that aren’t used normally in English.)

English apparently supports the following configurations of syllables: (V = Vowel, c = consonant)

Commonly supported configurations of vowels and consonants:

  • V (just a vowel sound and nothing else, like “Aye” or “Oh”)
  • Vc (e.g. “am, it, on“)
  • cV (e.g. “ma, he“)
  • Vcc
  • cVc
  • ccV
  • Vccc (“oinks“)
  • cVcc (“lamp“)
  • ccVc (“plan“)
  • ccV (“spray“)
  • ccVcc (“plank“)

There are also some more-suspect configurations that occasionally work, such as:

  • cVccc (“balks,”)
  • ccVcccc (“glimpsed“)

And things that theoretically could make words, but don’t seem to actually have examples:

  • cccVcccc (“spranksts” <– not a word, but it has a valid pronunciation)

For the sake of argument, we’ll restrict ourselves to the “commonly supported” list above.

If we make the conservative assumption that there are only 15 “valid” vowels / consonants at each position (instead of the full list of 23), we end up with the following number of possibilities for each vowel/consonant configuration:

  • V, 15
  • Vc, 225
  • cV, 225
  • Vcc, 3,375
  • cVc, 3,375
  • ccV, 3,375
  • Vccc, 50,625
  • cVcc, 50,625
  • ccVc, 50,625
  • cccV, 50,625
  • ccVcc, 759,375

Adding these up, we get a total of 972,465 single-syllable utterances that would be recognized as a potentially valid English word.

Since the Oxford English Dictionary only contains < 200,000 words that are in current use (plus another ~50,000 obsolete words), there is more than enough space for every even remotely plausibly useful English word to be replaced by a totally unique single-syllable equivalent.

This will save a TON of time in communication!

Testing: Real-world speed of English vs 1NGLISH:

The testing process is as follows:

  1. A phrase is chosen
  2. The phrase is said TWICE, with a 0.4 second pause between repetitions
  3. The total time of both phrases AND the pause is measured
  4. Example: if a phrase takes exactly 1.0 seconds to say once, then it would have a score of 2.4 seconds here (2.4 = 1.0 + 1.0 + 0.4)

Below are four totally normal sentences, before and after the 1NGLISH-ification process, along with their waveforms.

Example of how 1NGLISH shortens a sentence #1:

ENGLISH: “Observing this brutalist architecture gives me heart palpitations. Please survey the lobby for defibrillators!”

  • 10.35 seconds to say twice

1NGLISH: “Ob this brulj arzsk gives me heart paln. Please saiv the lorb for drenb.”

  • 9.03 seconds to say twice (87% as long)

1 Observing this brutalist architecture gives me heart palpitations. Please survey the lobby for defibrillators.png

Example of how 1NGLISH shortens a sentence #2:

ENGLISH: “Reprehensible scoundrels have absconded with my assortment of petit fours!”

  • 7.09 seconds to say twice

1NGLISH: “Raibl scraid have abdr with my sote of payt fours.”

  • 5.31 seconds to say twice (75% as long)

2 Reprehensible scoundrels have absconded with my assortment of petit fours.png

Example of how 1NGLISH shortens a sentence #3:

ENGLISH: “Librarian, I request the seventh treatise on philology from the bookshelf.”

  • 7.93 seconds to say twice

1NGLISH: “Laib, I rerqt the sev tront on phrend from the bornf.”

  • 6.47 seconds (82% as long)

3 Librarian, I request the seventh treatise on philology from the bookshelf.png

Example of how 1NGLISH shortens a sentence #4:

ENGLISH: “In Parliament, the foreign plenipotentiary negotiates with the defense minister.”

  • 8.01 seconds to say twice

1NGLISH: “In Parlt, the frnai plort nairt with the deif marne.”

  • 5.53 seconds to say twice (69% as long)

4 In Parliament, the foreign plenipotentiary negotiates with the defense minister.png

Conclusions:

For the four sentences tested above, we see a (roughly) 20–30% improvement in speed.

That’s called SCIENCE.

english-one-syllable-logo-2

Figure 3: 1NGLISH will need to demonstrate its superiority in order to convince people to learn it!

PROS: Speeds up your verbal communications—and perhaps also typing speed—by approximately 25%.

CONS: None! It’s the ultimate language. Learn it now!

You won’t believe how I never fell into a bottomless pit again, thanks to this one weird trick. Podiatrists hate it! Probably.

Background:

One of the leading causes of sidewalk-based injury is tripping on uneven pavement and/or falling into a manhole. Figure 1 illustrates one of the dangers inherent in modern sidewalks.

This danger has become even more pronounced now that people are more likely to be looking at their cell phones as they walk.

danger

Fig. 1: As you walk along the sidewalk, be on the lookout for obstacles in your path! This open telecommunications panel could easily trip you and/or cause you to fall into a tangled nest of wires.

Proposal:

An array of sensors on the front of the shoe will constantly scan for irregularities in the upcoming pavement.

  • Case 1: If the shoe detects an elevated obstacle (such as a stair step up or an object in the way), a cell-phone-vibrate-style motor located above the user’s toes will buzz.
  • Case 2: If the shoe detects a sudden drop (such as a stair step down, an open manhole cover, or a measureless abyss), a motor located below the user’s toes will buzz.
  • Case 3: If the shoe scans up and detects that the obstacle is extremely tall (e.g. a lamppost or just a regular wall), it can be configured to either buzz both motors (“don’t run into that lamppost”) or, if the user gets too many false positives from this situation (which would occur any time you were standing next to a door, wall, or other person), this situation could just generate no warning at all.

In this way, the user can easily tell if the upcoming danger is an object in the way (situation 1) or a “falling” danger (situation 2).

shoe-detect

Fig. 2: Here, the sensors in the shoe will scan ahead to look for dangerous obstacles (or a sudden drop-off in the path).

shoe-show-danger-zone

Fig. 3: In this scenario, the two detection units on the right side of the shoe (green, with check marks) do not detect any danger, but the two units on the left side of the shoe will alert the wearer to the open telecom panel.

danger-banana-peel

Fig. 4: Physical comedy will be dealt a setback, as no one will ever again slip on a banana peel in this utopian shoe-with-detectors future.

danger-noodle-snake

Fig. 5: “Falling into a snake pit” will no longer be a concern of yours, thanks to this new footwear technology! Computer vision has advanced to the point where a snake pit (which constantly slithers and hisses) can easily be distinguished from a normal sidewalk (which does neither).

PROS: You won’t fall into a snake pit again.

CONS: False negatives could be exceptionally deadly (e.g. “I stepped onto a pane of fragile glass above a chasm because the shoe didn’t sense any danger”). Does not protect against falling pianos or anvils.

One trick of common courtesy that would give you a new sense of satisfaction from paying your taxes!

Background:

It’s always polite to write a thank-you note when you get a gift. Especially if it’s a large sum of money!

For example, a thank-you note from a child might look like this: “Dear Grandma, thanks for the money for my birthday. I used it to buy a bicycle. Here’s a picture… (etc).”

Proposal:

The various benefits of a stable government are generally abstract and far-removed from the taxpayer.

But the pain of paying a huge chunk of money is obvious and immediate!

Governments across the world might benefit from sending a “thank you” note to each taxpayer, indicating what the money was used for!

(Some charities already do this, sending personalized thank-you notes in return for donations.)

Here is a mockup of what it would look like for the U.S. Government:

traffic-cone

Fig 1: A taxpayer who didn’t make a lot of money during the year might get a letter that looked like this.

Fig 2: A taxpayer who made a larger sum of money might get a more interesting thank-you note. The wizard hat was probably grossly overpriced, however.

octo

Fig 3: Sometimes, your tax dollars wouldn’t actually be enough to pay for the entirety of a specific purchase. In this case, the fraction purchased would be indicated, and the picture would be partially grayed-out to match. For example, this person’s tax revenue was used to partially buy an octopus, but their contribution alone was only sufficient to pay for five of the octopus’s eight legs. What strange and secret purpose did the government need an octopus, anyway? Well, the answer is  ████ ████ ██, ████ ██ █████ ██ ██████████ and also  ████ ██ ████ ███ ████ ██████ ████ ██ ████ ███ ██ ██ █ ██ ██████████ .

Conclusion:

This is a great idea! The many readers of this post who work at the IRS should lobby to have it implemented immediately.

PROS: Increases both accountability to the taxpayer of tax revenue and the personal connection of citizens to their representative government.

CONS: ████████ █ █████ ██ ███ █ █████ ! ████

blank

Supplementary Figure A: A blank “taxpayer thank-you note.”

unknown-tax

Supplementary Figure B: Original “taxpayer thank-you note” mockup.

Yet another solution to the dreaded “a table leg is in my way, how can I sit at this table???” problem that plagues our citizenry.

Background:

This is an alternate version of the previous table-related idea (see link here), which involved hanging a table from the ceiling.

The issue:

Sometimes, you’re sitting at a table, and the table legs get in the way. So annoying! See Figure 1 to be reminded of this calamity.

regular-table-legs

Fig. 1:  The presence of this table leg is probably stifling your enjoyment of life—if only it weren’t there; then you could sit at the corner of the table.

Proposal:

By putting all of the table legs on a motorized two-dimensional grid on the underside of the table, a computer could automatically detect where a person was sitting and automatically move the table legs out of the way, as shown in Figure 2.

move-table-legs

Fig. 2: If the table leg at “A” could be moved from position “A” to position “B” (perhaps by being on a motorized track on the underside of the table), then the individual on the right side of the digram would be able to sit at the corner of the table without the table leg getting in the way.

Unfortunately, there is one downside to this plan; if the table legs are not spaced apart, then the table can easily fall over, as seen in Figure 3.

force-applied-to-table

Fig. 3: A problem: if the table legs slide out of the way, the table will be very easy to tip over; even a small downward force (the red arrow labeled “F”) applied to the X on the table will cause the table to tip over.

The way to solve the tipping problem is quite simple, fortunately; if a force is applied to one corner of the table, we must simply apply an equal (or greater) force to the table leg on the opposite corner, and the table will not fall over. This system is implemented by means of a motorized bowling ball that is controlled by a sliding magnet underneath the table (Figure 4). Alternatively, the weight could be located beneath the table, but that would lack the visual flair of a bowling ball.

counterweight-to-balance-table

Fig. 4: Solution to the table-tipping problem: an extremely heavy weight (here, illustrated as a bowling ball) can roll around on the table and be a counterweight. Now, the table will not tip even if we apply a force point at “F” (shown in step 3), as the weight of the bowling ball prevents the table from tipping over.

PROS: May cause the table-sitter to be crushed beneath the table if the power unexpectedly goes out.

CONS: You may ask, “why not just solve this problem much more simply by putting a single post in the center of the table, and mounting that post on a few horizontal beams and/or a platform?” We leave the refutation of that objection as an exercise to the reader.

Never run over a pedestrian or a bicyclist while looking for a parking spot, thanks to this new attention-saving idea! Personal injury lawyers hate it!

Background:

It can be difficult to safely drive down the street AND find a parking spot at the same time. Many locations look like parking spots until you get right next to them (Figure 1) and see the fire hydrant / driveway / red curb (Figure 2).

2b-issues-maybe

Fig. 1: This is a road with two opposing lanes of traffic separated by the dashed yellow line. Cars (black) are parked on both sides of the road. The red car is driving from left to right down the two-lane road. Question marks indicate possible parking spots, but which ones—if any—are valid and will also fit our red car?

5-issues.png

Fig. 2: Unfortunately, the locations above were all disqualified for reasons that were not immediately obvious (fire hydrant, loading zone, driveway, etc.). The process of disqualifying these parking spots is a dangerous distraction to the driver!

Proposal:

A system with a LIDAR / radar and an integrated GPS unit would be able to constantly scan ahead for valid parking spaces.

This “SpotFinder” would work as follows:

  • A LIDAR unit (a laser range-finder) scans in front of the car, looking for gaps between parked cars.

  • If a spot is detected, SpotFinder checks the LIDAR data to see if the spot is big enough to fit your specific car.

  • SpotFinder checks your GPS coordinates in a street map database, to see if there are any disqualifying reasons to not park in the spot (e.g. fire hydrants, driveways, etc.) even if there is physically enough space there to fit a car.

If all the conditions above are met, SpotFinder beeps and says something like “parking spot located, ahead on your right in 60 feet, after the blue parked car.”

 

3a-maybe-rightFig. 3: The LIDAR unit is looking at the right side of the street at candidate parking spot “E.” The spot is big enough to fit a car, but the map data indicates the presence of a driveway. No good!

3b-maybe-left.png

Fig. 4: Here, the LIDAR unit is assessing parking spots A, B, and C on the left side of the street.

4-maybe-here.png

Fig. 5: Spot F is valid, but unfortunately isn’t quite long enough to fit the red car.

PROS: Increases safety by allowing drivers to focus their attention on driving instead of evaluating parking spots.

CONS: If the map database isn’t constantly updated, the system could occasionally suggest an invalid parking spot (for example, if a new driveway was constructed where a previously-valid parking spot had been). So the driver might get some false positives of suggested (but invalid) parking spots.