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Your weekly source for terrible plans and ideas!

You were driving a car SUPER RECKLESSLY without even realizing it! Stop using your car sun visor and upgrade to this new mechanically complex solution with dozens of possible points of failure!

Background:

Car sun visors are useful for avoiding glare while driving. But they require constant adjustment on winding roads, and they don’t work at all if the sun is too low in the sky (e.g. sunrise, sunset conditions).

1-car.png

Fig. 1: Oh no, the horrible sun is blinding me as I drive!

Proposal:

Instead of having a sun visor, what if the sun was blocked by an “eclipse disc,” a small opaque disc that could slide around in front of the windshield (or perhaps inside a double-paned windshield).

Using a small camera in the dashboard and an eye-detection algorithm, the car can figure out: 1) the position of your eyes, 2) the position of the sun, and 3) the location where a small object (the “eclipse disc”) could block the sun that falls on your eyes.

Then, the car can automatically move the eclipse disc around to block the direct light from the sun (Figure 2).

 

3-sun-visor-eclipse-4x.png

Fig. 2: As the car turns (or the sun sets), the eclipse disc can move around to shade the driver’s eyes.

Conclusion:

Adding a second disc for the front seat passenger (and perhaps another disc for the driver’s side window) would allow this system to totally replace the obsolete hundred-year-old sun visor. Embrace the future of automotive innovation!

4-mechanism.png

Fig. 3: The mechanism in photorealistic detail. A: the eclipse disc. B: the mechanical arm that moves the eclipse disc around (here, it’s mounted on a track on the left side of the windshield). C: the windshield. D: the approximate location of the rear-view mirror, just to provide context.

 

PROS: Prevents accidents due to glare-induced impaired visibility.

CONS: May lead to a moment of horror when you think the sun has been replaced by a black hole, until you realize that it’s just the “eclipse disc” sliding around on your windshield.

 

 

Spice up your boring ocean views with this new incredible construction megaproject! Bonus: creates jobs!

Background:

Looking out to sea from most coastal locations results in the same view: a featureless horizon of sky and sea.

But we can fix that with modern construction techniques!

Proposal:

Let’s improve those boring ocean views by adding silhouettes of distant cities and monuments (Figure 1).

This way, when you look out into the ocean, you’ll get an idea of what’s on the other side, even if it’s thousands of miles away.

1-silhouettes.png

Fig. 1: Here are three proposed highly-accurate silhouettes of Mt. Fuji (a), San Francisco (b), and Sydney (c).

 

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2-silhouette-possible-application.png

Fig. 2: In order to liven up Hawaii’s ocean views, we can place the three silhouettes from figure 1 off the coast of the Hawaiian islands.

 

Fig. 3: Fixing the skyline: here’s what it might look like before (top) and after (bottom) our silhouette mega-project is complete.

3-silhouette-placement.png

Fig. 4: A diagram of how the silhouette system would work; Here, a viewer on an island (A) sees the distant image of the Eiffel Tower (B), even though France is actually thousands of additional miles away.

PROS: Provides a useful navigation and orientation aid. Promotes geographical awareness. Livens up the featureless ocean horizon.

CONS: The silhouette is only correct from one angle, so any ships that are out to sea will get a misleading view.

Stop living in barbaric savagery with the English words “left” and “right.” Ascend to the next level of consciousness and realize your new potential with this new secret wisdom only for the most enlightened individuals.

The issue:

People often confuse the directions “left” and “right.”

Additionally, “right” can additionally mean “correct,” which leads to the exchange:

  • “Should I turn left here?”
  • “Right.”

This is stupid and must be fixed if English is going to remain competitive with the world’s top languages, like Esperanto (Figure 1) and Loglan.

 

esperanto-even-has-a-flag.png

Fig. 1: Whoa, Esperanto has its own flag, it must be pretty popular!

1-LR

Fig. 2: These words are bad for indicating directions. If you use them, please take a moment to feel bad about it.

Proposal:

Instead of using random words like “left” or “right,” let’s use some words that inherently have left-right properties to them.

In English, the alphabet always comes in this order

  • A B C D … W X Y Z

The leftmost letter (or a similar word) can be the new word for “left,” and likewise with the rightmost letter.

So “left” becomes can become “Aa,” which is actually already a Scrabble word (among other options, this one: Aa). It could be pronounced either with the a in “bat” (aa-aa) or the a in “law” (ah-ah). Or a combination, like “aa-ah.”

“Right” will then become “Zz,” which is, obviously, pronounced “zi-zuh,” as if you extended the end of the word “pizza.”

2-AZ

Fig. 3: “Ah-ah” / “Aa-aa” and “zi-zuh” are inherently superior to “left” and “right.”

Alternative option:

An alternative option would be to pick a multi-syllabic word that everyone knows, and use the left part of that word as “left” and the right part of that word as “right.”

Plenty of words would be suitable, but here are two proposals (Figures 4 and 5):

3-alfa

Fig. 4: “Alfa” or “alpha” for left and “bet” or “beta” for right might be acceptable and easy to remember.

 

4-aardvark

Fig. 5: The best word is clearly “aardvark,” which splits cleanly into “aard” and “vark.” These new words have the advantage of being extremely distinct from each other and not colliding with any existing English words.

See how difficult this ORIGINAL English exchange is:

  • DRIVER: “Should I turn left at the next intersection?”
  • PASSENGER: “Right. Then once there’s no road left, right.”

Q: Which way should the car go? But see how much clearer it becomes with our new and improved words:

  • DRIVER: “Should I turn aard at the next intersection?”
  • PASSENGER: “Right. Then once there’s no road left, vark.”

PROS: Totally unambiguous directions will now be possible, saving millions of car crashes and disasters every day.

CONS: Some old-fashioned users of “left” and “right” would need to be mercilessly ridiculed until they adopted this new system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to write a best-selling self-help book in 0.1 seconds or less!

Background:

There’s a huge market for telling people what they want to hear, whether or not it’s true. Additionally, there is a $10,000,000,000+ annual market in self-improvement books in the United States alone.

It would be profitable to get even a small slice of this enormous market!

The Issue:

Writing and promoting a self-help book is probably a lot of work.

But what if we could just tell people what they want to hear, putting the bare minimum of effort into the book?

Then, the book would practically sell itself! (After all, if you tell somewhat what they already want to hear, they will usually just nod sagely and agree, even if your point is very poorly thought-out.)

Proposal:

Thanks to the Internet and the power of computers, we can do the following:

  • Algorithmically generate a huge variety of “self-actualization” books that cover every possible topic (Figure 1). These would consist of a customized introduction, and then a bunch of generic platitudes and random out-of-copyright “allegorical fables” and excerpts of supposedly-relevant (but actually random) books found on Project Gutenberg.
  • These books can be print-on-demand, so if one of our algorithmically-generated books doesn’t sell, we are only out the amount of time it took to write the custom introduction.

Probably most people won’t read past the intro anyway, so it’s win/win!

self-help-top-2

Fig. 1: Some markets aren’t really catered to, but we can write books to tell people that they are great and shouldn’t change, no matter what!

 

 

Here are some additional examples:

Market this to people convicted of various theft-related crimes:

  • “Burglars: the Unsung Heroes of the Modern Economy.” Possible subtitle, to make it seem more academic: “The Engine of Capitalism in a Post-Scarcity World.”

Market this to the commercial fishing industry:

  • “Overfishing: Problem, or Solution to Earth’s Fish Menace?”

Market this to individuals whose only joy in life is to make things miserable for others:

  • “Toxic is just a synonym for Gets Things Done: How So-called “Toxic” People Saved Civilization.”

We could even randomly generate an entire book in 0.1 seconds as a result of an extremely specific search query (see Figure 2); this way, ANY topic could be turned into a self-help book with public-domain cover art.

 

self-help-bottom-2

Fig. 2: If we don’t bother to write a custom introduction, we could randomly generate both the text AND a suitable cover image for any search query. Now you’ll always be able to find a book on the topic you’re looking for!

 

 

Conclusion:

As an added bonus, these books can cross-reference each other, which may improve their Internet search engine results.

PROS: You’ll always be able to find a book on any topic now! Fantastic!

CONS: None! Helps promote literacy and self-improvement, while also being profitable.

 

ad-your-address-will-be-sold.png

 

Don’t believe the lies of “Big Ichthyology”—save our cities from flooding by vanquishing our ancient foes of the briny deep. Maybe the only problem with overfishing was… we didn’t do enough of it???

The issues:

Let us consider two economic / environmental problems that should, in an ideal world, be addressed somehow:

  1. Sea level rise (see Figure 1)
  2. Overfishing

Obviously no one has any plans to actually address these; the “tragedy of the commons” will sort them out naturally. But what if we did want to make a difference, and we could use the second problem there to solve the first one?

 

1 sea level problem.png

Fig. 1: Argh, there was too much water, and my lovely coastal city is completely flooded!

Proposal & Hypothesis:

  • Fish take up a certain amount of space in the sea.
  • This volume displeases a certain amount of water; i.e., if the fish were removed, there would be more room for water.
  • What if, by increasing the degree of overfishing, we could make more room for water in the sea, and thus prevent sea level rise?

 

sea-level-2.png

Fig. 2: Be removing all the fish and “fellow travelers” (e.g. the whale, the octopus) from the sea, we can lower the overall sea level back to acceptable levels (orange markers on the bottom figure). Our coastal cities are saved!

Conclusion:

You should write your representative and tell them to support this new plan instead of funding sea walls or relocation or some other crazy and expensive scheme. FACT: Less volume for fish (especially the skeletons) means more volume for water.

Alternative plans:

It’s always good to have a backup plan for preventing expensive damage to coastal cities, so maybe:

  • Everyone just drinks a lot more water?
  • Dig a huge hole in, like, Nevada, and then fill it with water?
  • Make a huge magnifying glass, and use it to boil the sea, thus lowering the ocean level?

PROS: Provides more jobs for fishing, until we remove 100% of fish. May solve sea level rise.

CONS: It’s possible that fish don’t actually take up a substantial amount of space in the ocean? But I’m no oceanologist.

 

 

 

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Use the power of BURNING SHAME to lose weight fast! You’ll be in shape for the summer season in no time. Guaranteed to scar your psyche forever. Dietitians hate it!

The issue:

It’s often hard to keep track of the quantity of snack food that one can eat.

For example, if you eat a single “fun size” candy bar every hour at work (maybe you work somewhere with a collective candy bowl), you’ll accumulate 3200 additional calories over the course of an 8-hour 5-day work week (at ~80 calories per “fun-size” bar).

1 candy bowl medium size

Fig. 1: A candy bowl, as might be seen in a workplace.

Proposal:

After consuming the contents of a candy wrapper / chip bag / soda can, don’t just throw away the now-empty container: instead, use a pushpin to tack it onto a cork board / bulletin board (Figure 2).

The accumulation of wrappers will give you perspective on how much junk food you are actually consuming.

3 illustration diet-motivator

Fig. 2:  Each participant in this system gets a region of the cork board where they pin their candy wrappers. It could be difficult to attach soda cans with a pushpin, so maybe glue could be used. This would also have the benefit of eventually turning the entire cork board to eventually become some sort of horrified piece of contemporary art. Chocolate at left is not to scale. Or at least it shouldn’t be. If you’re going to buy that much chocolate, at least buy some better chocolate.

2 board

Fig. 3: A proof-of-concept with candy wrappers quickly accumulating on the “cork board of shame.”

Bonus option:

Don’t wash the wrappers: this way, they will attract rats, pigeons, snakes, and other vermin, which will invade your kitchen and start eating your snacks. Counterintuitively, these vermin are actually doing you a favor by eating the snacks before you can!. Involuntary dieting: accomplished!

PROS: Makes you more aware of both your degree of snacking AND your consumption of wasteful packaging products.

CONS: Your new kitchen vermin may possibly give you the bubonic plague. But that can usually be cured these days!

 

 

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Actually use your phone / computer’s much-hyped voice assistant feature for something other than playing music and setting calendar invites? Dream the impossible dream.

Background:

Voice recognition has existed in somewhat passable form since the late 1990s. But recently it has become more prominent with Apple Siri, the “OK Google” voice assistant, and Amazon Alexa.

The issue:

However, these products are all incredibly limited, and can perform almost no actions beyond a few hard-coded ones that were added at release.

The last 5 years of “voice assistant” development have mainly been focused on extremely specific items of potential commercial interest (e.g. “now you can ask about baseball scores or movie showtimes”), rather than adding core functionality.

If you want to do something besides play music, interact with your calendar, or set a timer, then using a voice assistant is an exercise in frustration.

Proposal:

At every company with a voice assistant division, all senior engineers should have a recurring Monday task where they have to:

  • Find the #1 query that users ask for that is both 1) reasonable and 2) totally un-answerable by the system.
  • Add a response to that query the ever-growing list of hard-coded phrases that the system recognizes.

To assist, I have run through a list of plausible and reasonable queries to test Siri on iOS 11 and “OK Google” on Android 8, and have provided screenshots of the equivalent queries and disastrous results below. They are divided by category.

CALCULATOR: BASIC

  • “What’s 2 + 2”
    • Google: SUCCESS
    • iOS: SUCCESS
  • “What’s 10 factorial?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“10 factorial = 3 628 800”)
    • iOS: SUCCESS (“The answer is 3628800.”)
    • 001CALC-1b-calculator-10-factorial
  • “Open the calculator”:
    • Google: Failure (Redirects to a “install this third-party calculator app!” link, despite the default Android Calculator app already being present.)
    • iOS: Failure on iPad (but, similarly provides an app-store link where a third-party calculator could be downloaded.)
    • 001CALC-1c-calculator-open

BASIC APP INTERACTION:

  • “Redo my last question.”
    • Google: Failure (Gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: Failure (“Sorry, [your name], we don’t seem to be navigating anywhere”)
    • 005APP-1-1z01-redo-my-last-question
  • “Clear my browsing history for the last one hour.”
    • Google: Partial success (It says “No problem!” but then directs you to a link with instructions to do it yourself.)

    • iOS: Failure (“I didn’t find any appointments about ‘Browser history.’ “
    • Apparently, Siri interpreted this as a request to clear a calendar event.)
    • 005APP-2-1z02-history-browser-clear
  • “How many new mail messages did I get today?”
    • Google: Failure (Shows a list of recent emails, but does not count them.)
    • iOS: SUCCESS (“Seven new emails were received today.”)
    • 005APP-3-1z03-mail-1-partial-success
  • “Are there any new podcasts?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • iOS: Failure (“Playing podcasts, starting with the newest episode…” and shows an “Open Podcasts” button.)
    • 005APP-4-1z04-podcasts-new

SYSTEM:

  • Version of the OS:
    • Google: “What version of Android am I running” or “What is my Android version” or “What is the system version” –> Failure (gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: “What version of iOS am I running” –> Failure (Refusal: “Sorry, I can’t do that”).
    • 006SYS-1-2a-version-of-os-name

      This fails on iOS… but the question below succeeds.

    • iOS, attempt #2: “What version of iOS is running” –> SUCCESS (“You’re running iOS 11.0.3.” Note that it says you are running this version, but will not respond to a question in that format.)
    • 006SYS-2-2b-version-of-os-part-2-partial-success

      Note that this question succeeds on iOS where the one above failed.

  • “Change the system language to Portuguese”
    • Google: Failure (Gives an irrelevant web search result about changing the interface of a Nintendo DS portable game system).
    • iOS: Failure (Refusal: “Sorry, but I’m not able to change that setting” with no additional information).
    • 006SYS-4-2d-system-language-gives-3ds-results
  • “Change the OK Google Voice to UK English” or “Change the Siri Voice to UK English”
    • Google: Failure (Gives a relevant web search result for a change, at least.)
    • iOS: Partial success (“I can’t change my voice, but you can do it yourself in Settings” (Button to “Siri Voice Settings” appears on screen.)
    • 006SYS-5-2e-voice-change
  • “How many gigabytes of RAM does this phone have” (Android) or “How much RAM is on this iPad” (iOS) or “how much RAM is on this device” (both)
    • Google: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • iOS: Failure (Refusal: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that here.”)

SCREEN & CAMERA RESOLUTION:

  • “What’s the screen resolution?” / “What’s the screen resolution of this phone?”/ “What’s the screen resolution of this iPad?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides relevant-ish web search results for an assortment of different phones.)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides generic Wikipedia link to the definition of “Display resolution.”)
    • 009CAM-2-screen-resolution-2
  • “What is the resolution of the phone camera?” / “What is the resolution of the iPad camera?” / “What is the camera resolution of the front facing camera?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • 009CAM-4-resolution-camera

SLIGHTLY MORE DIFFICULT MATH:

  • “What’s the sine of 30 degrees?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“sine(30 degrees) = 0.5”).
    • iOS: SUCCESS (Even though it says, along with the correct answer, “The answer is approximately 0.5.”)
    • 050MATH-1-whats-sine(30 degrees) 2
  • “What’s the sine of pi?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“sine(Pi radians) = 0.” Note that “radians” is (correctly) appended here by Google.)
    • iOS: SUCCESS (“The answer is 0.”)
  • “What’s the sine of pi radians?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“sine(Pi radians) = 0.”)
    • iOS: Failure (Fails where “sine of pi” succeeds. “OK, I found this on the web for ‘What is the sine of pi radians’.”)
    • 050MATH-3-whats-sine-of-pi-radians-2

      “What is the sine of pi radians?” fails on iOS, but “What is the sine of pi?” succeeds.

  • “What’s the sine of 2 radians?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“sine(2 radians) = 0.909297427.”)
    • iOS: Failure (“OK, I found this on the web for ‘What is the sine of 2 rad.’.”)
  • “What’s ‘sine 2 radians’?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides a web search. Interpreted as “what’s sign to radians.”)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides a web search. Interpreted as “what’s sign to radians.”)
    • 050MATH-whats-sine(2 radians)

NETWORK:

  • “What WiFi networks are available”
    • Google: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
  • “What’s the strength of the current WiFi network?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides somewhat relevant installation link to a program called WiFi analyzer that could probably answer this question.)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides vaguely relevant web search results.)
    • 010NET-2a-wifi-2
  • “Is my Wi-Fi encrypted?” or “Is my Wi-Fi network encrypted?”
    • Google: Failure (Informs me that Messages are encrypted, which is a different question entirely.)
    • iOS: Failure (“Wi-Fi is on.”)
  • “Does this device support 80211-ac?” (A WiFi network standard.)
    • Google: Failure (Informs me that Messages are encrypted, which is a different question entirely.)
    • iOS: Failure (“Wi-Fi is on.”)

BACKUPS AND STORAGE:

  • 100BACK-3a-last-backup-2
  • “When was this device last backed up”  or “When was the last backup” (identical results)
    • Google: Failure (gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: Failure (Shows a random calendar event from years ago that happened to have the word “backup” in it).
  • 100BACK-3c-space-on-device-1
  • “How much space is left on this device?”
    • Google: Failure (gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: Failure (Refusal: “Sorry, I can’t help you with that here).
  • “How much disk space is free?” or “How much free space is available” (identical results)
    • Google: Failure (gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: Failure (Refusal: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that here”).

Conclusion / Final Ratings:

  • Siri: D-minus
  • “OK Google”: D-minus
  • Alexa: not tested

If every Apple, Google, and Amazon programmer just spent one entire work day contributing a single answer to the repertoire of easy-but-unanswerable questions, perhaps voice assistants would be more reliable.

PROS: Makes voice assistants more reliable.

CONS: Brings the day even closer when humans are replaced by metal skeleton robots.