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Take off your top hat and monocle, and gain empathy for people who earn less than you, using this not-actually-available browser plugin!

Background:

The same amount of money can represent vastly different things to different people.

For a minimum-wage earner (in 2019), $10,000 represents roughly 65% of a year’s total salary.

But for the very top level of executives at one of the top 350 U.S. firms, that number represents less than a day’s salary.

The issue:

Thus, it can be very difficult for people to understand how much a product actually costs from someone else’s perspective.

For example, someone who doesn’t have a ton of money might say: “Who would be so crazy as to pay $14 for a box of cereal? Or $9 for an organic head of lettuce?”

  • To the minimum-wage earner, the box of cereal represents ~2 hours of work.
  • But to a cardiac surgeon earning $400,000 a year, the same box of cereal represents 5 minutes of earnings.
  • The cereal box would have to cost $378 to make the same dent in the cardiologist’s overall income!

On the opposite side, someone who earns a lot of money might have thought: “Who would be deterred by a $400 speeding ticket? That’s barely even a slap on the wrist.”

  • However, for the minimum-wage employee, a $400 ticket represents over SIXTY hours of earnings!
  • The ticket would need to be for almost $11,000 for the cardiologist to feel the same wallet pain. (A few countries levy fines in a scaled-by-income fashion to avoid this scenario: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day-fine )

Proposal:

A browser plugin can take the following pieces of information:

  • Your actual salary, as a baseline.
  • A “target” salary that you are trying to understand

Then, prices on all web sites are scaled naively: so a person earning $50,000 who wants to “remember” how it felt to earn $5,000 a year working part-time would configure the plugin to simply multiply all prices by 10x.

Likewise, if you wanted to better understand the lifestyle of a rich oligarch, you could enter “$100,000,000” for your annual income. For someone with that sort of annual income, a $500,000 exotic sports car is the same fraction of total income as a $250 purchase is to someone earning $50,000 a year.

 

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Fig. 1: Setting up the plugin requires configuring exactly two options: your actual salary (in red above) and the target “simulated” salary (in blue above).

 

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Fig. 2: Here, the plugin is configured to multiply prices by approximately 6: this simulates the difference between a $120,000 earner and a $20,000 earner. This box of chocolates was actually listed for $19.34, but with the scaled up prices, it displays as “$118.54-ish”: that’s what it “feels like” to the $20,000 earner as compared to the $120,000 earner.

PROS: Allows a person to get a more intuitive feel of what a particular income level feels like. May increase human empathy, who knows!

CONS: Since this plugin edits dollar values on EVERY single web page, it may lead to you to filing wildly incorrect tax returns if you forget to disable it when filing your taxes online.

P.S. This was made as an actual Chrome plugin, so those are real screenshots, but it isn’t actually distributed anywhere.

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Fig. S1: This supplementary figure shows the configuration screen for this plugin, with a basic description of its intended purpose.

 

 

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Fig. S2: This supplementary figure shows the original UI mockup.

 

 

Never get sued again, thanks to a new type of wallpaper that can convey over-broad warnings to your company patrons or houseguests!

Background:

Liability law is extremely complicated and counterintuitive.

However, one common factor is that it appears to generally be beneficial—or legally required—for the owner of a potential hazard to warn others about that hazard (e.g. the omnipresent California Prop 65 warnings: “Warning: This location contains chemicals that are known to cause cancer”).

The issue:

Unfortunately, these Prop 65 warning signs have two issues:

  1. They only cover a limited subset of dangerous situations
  2. The warnings are inapplicable to normal residential hazards (e.g. fire, electrocution hazard).

Proposal:

We can bring the potential liability reduction of the Prop 65 warning to all homeowners (not just business owners) with a new type of wallpaper that lists every conceivable hazard on it (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: This wallpaper attempts to list all potential dangers. Additional hazards (e.g. shark attack, freezing hazard, cross-traffic-does-not-stop, etc.) may be added by writing them in using a regular permanent marker.

Consider the following situation:

  1. A houseguest is bitten by 99 snakes (that were disguising themselves as a carpet)
  2. Then the houseguest sues the owner of the house for the cost of their medical expenses.

Now, at the civil trial, the homeowner can point to a photo of their wallpaper and say “Your Honor, it says right here that there is a ‘snake possibility,’ so my guest should have been well aware of this potential danger.” See Figure 2 for an example of what this photo might show.

Whether or not that would hold any legal weight is a question for the great legal minds of our time, of course.

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Fig. 2: An example of what this wallpaper might look like in a residential home. It CLEARLY states that there is a potential snake-related hazard, among other possible dangers.

How to create the list of warnings:

You might think it would be difficult to create a comprehensive list of warnings, but this is actually the easiest part: we simply collect all civil lawsuits and list out every single thing that a lawsuit ever happened over, and then add that to the wallpaper. At 12-point font, it would be possible to easily fit millions of unique warnings on a standard wall.

PROS: May (in a theoretical world in which lawsuits are resolved by robots) help reduce legal liability AND bring high-class interior decoration to a room.

CONS: It is unclear if this legal strategy would be successful, as it is has presumably not yet been tested in court.

 

 

Is a university lecture or job talk going on FAR longer than it is supposed to? Emphasize punctuality with this new incredible heat-lamp-based presentation setup!

The issue:

Sometimes, a college lecture or work presentation goes far over the allotted time (Figure 1).

Frequently, the presenter doesn’t even realize that they are over time.

 

One simple way to prevent a presentation from going over time would be to just have the power outlets turn off at exactly the designated end-of-presentation time.

However, this hard stop could be annoying: what we really want is something that will make the presenter inherently want to wrap up their talk.

Proposal:

The solution is simple: just have an array of heat lamps pointed directly at the presentation podium.

When the time limit has expired, the heat lamps turn on, one at a time. At first, the podium will be just a little warm, but it will quickly become scorching and unbearable. Thus, the presenter is encouraged to conclude their talk in a timely fashion.

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Fig. 2: The heat lamps above the presenter will gradually turn on when the presentation hits its time limit.

Conclusion:

An earlier shark-related proposal turned out to be too expensive, as it required creating a new auditorium with a raised platform above a shark tank. So this is an almost-as-effective solution for the university or business on a tight budget.

This heat lamp idea could be used in conjunction with an earlier software-only plan to “burn away” slides as they are shown. This “burning” idea would synergize well with the heat lamps, too!

PROS: Does not have the same recurring maintenance costs of the shark version of this idea in the link above.

CONS: May cause a circuit breaker to trip if the building is not wired for 6000+ watts on a single circuit.

Avoid many employment discrimination pitfalls with a new interview anonymization system! Tell your HR department about it today.

The issue:

When selecting an individual for a job, an unavoidable aspect of the process is the physical appearance of the candidate.

A job candidate might be unfairly penalized because of preconceptions about their age / sex / race / etc. Not only is this unfair to the candidate, but the overall situation also opens a company up to employment discrimination lawsuits even if they are not illegally discriminating.

Proposal:

To help avoid even the most subtle biases in the evaluation of a job candidate, the HR department should issue a full face-covering mask to all on-site interviewees (Figures 1 and 2).

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Fig. 1: When interviewing job candidates who are wearing these masks, we don’t have to worry about certain types of illegal discrimination occurring, since the candidate retains most of their anonymity. These masks could be cheaply obtained from a halloween store (perhaps using the “Friday the 13th”-style of hockey goalie masks as a good baseline mask).

If there are multiple job candidates in a single day, the HR department could stock a number of distinct masks, so as to distinguish each candidate. “The red mask one” versus “the really unsettling purple-mask one,” for example.

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Fig. 2: It is possible that the mask should also cover hair, since hair color, texture, and style also “leaks” information that could theoretically lead to bias in the interviewer.

Since the masks are different styles without the colors, it may also be preferable to have the masks be entirely black-and-white (Figure 3), to avoid any cultural connotations with specific colors.

If you think this is ridiculous and would never happen, consider that a double-digit percentage of male candidates in the early-2000s Western world would prefer not to wear a pink mask (see also the dialog surrounding the “Mr. Pink” codename in the movie Reservoir Dogs), and other countries may have their own color-associated biases.

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Fig. 3: With these de-colorized masks, we don’t have to worry about culture-specific color associations.

Even with a mask, a person’s voice still provides substantial information about them, so these masks could also contain built-in voice modulators that would make all job candidates sound like Jigsaw from the Saw series.

Conclusion:

This is somewhat similar to the previous “anonymous government officials” idea (which has, surprisingly, still not been implemented!) but is more generally applicable.

PROS: Helps job applicants get a more fair evaluation, shields a company from accusations about certain types of illegal discrimination.

CONS: None! This is a perfect and practical idea.

 

 

If you’re starting a new gang, read this important set of guidelines before you select your gang colors!

Background:

Some gangs are known for wearing specific colors.

The issue:

It occasionally happens that a non-gang-affiliated passerby’s clothing happens to match local gang colors by chance, which can lead to various unfortunate encounters.

Proposal:

Although it is unlikely that any existing gang will change its colors, if creating a new gang, a new “gang color style guide” is proposed:

  • Instead of adopting a single solid color (e.g. red, blue, green), a gang instead selects the distinctive patterning of a local type of snake, as illustrated in Figure 1.

This has at least two benefits:

  1. Due to the complex snake patterning, it is unlikely that a non-gang-affiliated individual would coincidentally happen to be wearing valid gang colors.
  2. These snake patterns would serve a useful educational purpose for the community at large. For example, people who were continually exposed to The Coral Snake Gang‘s colors would soon become experts in identifying the coloration of the venomous coral snake. This knowledge could save lives and be a useful fact for pub trivia.
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Fig. 1: These proposed gang colors are the patterns of two commonly-confused snakes. (Left: the non-venomous milk snake. Right: the venomous coral snake.)

Conclusion:

This would be a useful way of reinforcing the knowledge conveyed in the rhyme in Figure 2. Now, every time a person sees a member of “The Milk Snake Gang,” they will also reinforce their familiarity with the coloration of the milk snake.

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Fig. 2: These rhymes from Wikipedia allegedly help remember which snakes are venomous: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral_snake . Since it seems prudent to not be bitten by a snake in either the venomous or the non-venomous situation, a more generally applicable rhyme (suggested to me by a fellow bad/worst idea aficionado) would be “If it’s a snake / do not partake.”

PROS: Teaches valuable snake facts, improves public safety.

CONS: May be difficult to find clothing in the required colors/patterns.

 

Increase “friction” in web purchases in order to save us from the convenience of our decadent consumerist society: the incredible “chomping alligator mouth” accessory that you need in your life today!

Background:

In today’s highly computerized society, it’s easy to make an expensive purchase or a life-changing decision with minimal effort.

The issue:

Sometimes, the importance of a decision is out of sync with how much work is required to make that decision.

For example, now that online purchases are extremely “low friction,” it is possible to order 500 king cobras and have them shipped to your house or apartment with just a single button click on a web site.

Previously, one would have had to actually go to a store and start throwing cobras into a shopping bag, loading them into your car, etc., which would have given the purchaser time to reflect on their life decisions.

Proposal:

In order to bring back “friction”—or at least make the danger / importance of a decision evident—the following computer accessory is proposed: a hinged alligator mouth with a button inside (Figure 1).

For any big-ticket purchase or important decision (e.g. “Submit your taxes online”), you will no longer be able to confirm your decision by simply clicking on a button on screen. Instead, you have to reach into the alligator’s mouth and click the “Confirm” button.

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Fig. 1: This alligator mouth makes impulse purchases less likely. Description at left: the button (A) must be pressed in order to make any expensive online purchases. Hinged sections (B) and (C) can clamp shut (D) onto the user’s hand if the system determines that the user has made a poor purchasing decision.

The alligator mouth would not necessarily have to even have the capability of chomping on the button-pushing user: it’s possible that the psychological impact of placing one’s hand into the mouth would be sufficient to make the user think twice about their purchase.

 

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Fig. 2: When multiple programmers work on the same code, they have to merge their changes together in the end. If someone submits bad code or improperly merges it, it creates a huge hassle for everyone. Here, the alligator mouth would be able to chomp down on a user who attempted to merge improperly formatted (or otherwise invalid) code.

Bonus proposal:

Since people make more and more of their purchases on smartphones, it’s likely that this alligator mouth would be very inconvenient, since it’s not very portable. To solve this issue, we can bring the “clamshell” form factor back to cell phone designs, then add a motorized mechanism to allow the phone to snap closed onto the user’s fingers.

Historical precedent:

This is basically an Internet-enabled version of the enormous stone “Mouth of Truth” in Rome.

PROS: Reduces the likelihood of poorly-considered Internet purchases.

CONS: May cause enormous psychological trauma and/or loss of important fingers.

Improve the safety of high-altitude mountaineering with this new permitting mechanism—never fear overcrowding on Everest again!

Background:

Certain mountains require that climbers obtain a permit before embarking.

Sometimes these can be expensive, but rarely is any mountaineering competency required. Everest permits, which are issued by the government of Nepal, cost approximately $10,000 (Wikipedia link).

The issue:

If too many people are crowded onto a narrow high-altitude route, disaster can result from increased amount of time that climbers spend in the inhospitable low-temperature and low-oxygen environment.

Proposal:

Instead of just giving out Everest permits to anyone who can pay the fee, why not make a climber show their dedication by first requiring that they summit a less deadly mountain?

Specifically, the climber must obtain a physical “summit eligibility token” from the summit of an easier peak, as shown in Figure 1.

This token—plus the standard entry fee—would then be required for climbing a more difficult mountain.

 

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Fig. 1: Left: the leftmost mountain is not too difficult, and can be climbed without a permit. On the top of that mountain is a token that will permit the climber to attempt the mountain shown in the middle of the diagram, and so on.

In order to make things slightly more interesting, the token is not just a simple card or coin, but is an extremely heavy metal ingot (Figure 2).

The climber would have to show their mountaineering prowess by somehow lugging this heavy ingot all the way back down the mountain.

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Fig. 2: The more advanced tokens are also heavier; in this case, the “Everest eligibility” token is a 20 kilogram (44 lb.) copper ingot. Restocking these ingots would be easy: they could simply be airdropped from a plane or helicopter, since the exact placement of the ingots is not crucial, as long as they are in the general vicinity of the peak.

Conclusion:

The Everest gatekeepers should adopt this idea, and should immediately start designing some interesting eligibility ingots (and figuring out which mountains they should go on).

PROS: Sets a lower bound on the amount of unqualified-ness of a prospective mountain climber, which may reduce the number of mountaineering fatalities.

CONS: May also reduce overall revenue obtained from permit issuance.