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Your weekly source for terrible plans and ideas!

Stop being distracted by your phone—intentionally reduce its functionality with this new “minimalist mode” interface!

Background:

Cell phone interfaces seem to inexorably become more complicated as time goes on.

The issue:

The 2010-era smartphone relied on a small number of obviously-interactable elements, but 2020’s smartphones are quite sophisticated (and complicated) from a UI standpoint, with finger-sliding gestures, multiple screens of icons, and even the possibility of splitting the screen to show more than one app at a time.

Proposal:

Now that phones are fast enough to run pretty much any software, we can add an alternative “minimalist mode” to a cell phone, where the phone reboots into a restricted interface that only has a certain limited set of options.

What exactly constitutes a “minimalist mode” is up for debate, but it’s possible that a user could select from a number of relatively-sparse cell phone interfaces featuring only the “most essential” elements (e.g. perhaps a dialer, SMS, and map). Figure 1 shows a possible single-screen “minimalist” interface.

Fig. 1: A mockup for a rotary-dialer inspired cell phone interface. This would encourage people to learn their friends’ phone numbers, although the benefit of this is highly questionable.

Conclusion:

It really feels like a more polished version of this could be an actual product: it could be useful as both a “restricted use mode” for phones for small children AND a “get off my lawn” mode for curmudgeonly oldsters who are still hoping for a revival of the flip phone.

PROS: Can be implemented entirely in software, would be a highly-differentiated unique feature for a phone (at least until every other manufacturer copied it in 4–6 months).

CONS: None!

A new plan for probabilistically requiring that people refill things—no more “but there’s one drop of milk left in the carton!”

Background:

It is generally understood that a person who finishes the last amount of something (e.g. milk, soy sauce, driving a shared car until the tank is empty) is also responsible for refilling the substance.

The issue:

This system is frequently gamed by the lazy, who will leave a tiny amount remaining so as to not have to refill the container (e.g. “But there’s still one more drop of milk in the carton!” or “There’s still some vapor in the car’s gas tank!”).

The underlying problem is that the expectation is that a person is free from obligation unless they consume the very last drop of something.

Proposal:

We can fix this by adding a sensor to each eventually-needs-refilling container.

Let’s use a refillable soy sauce bottle as a concrete example:

  • A soy-sauce-remaining detector (a floating ball) is added to the bottle (Figure 1).
  • Every time the soy sauce is poured, there is a chance that the bottle will light up and demand that the user refill it.
  • This chance isn’t uniform; when the bottle is 50% full or more, the chance is 0%. But as the bottle is emptied, the chance that a person will be called on to refill it increases.

Since it’s impossible to predict exactly when the bottle will need refilling, there’s no easy way to game the system.

Fig. 1: This “probabilistic refill” soy sauce bottle will unpredictably demand that the user refill it. The chance of being called on to refill the container increases as the container is depleted: at left, we see that a user would only have a 2% chance of being called on to refill the half-full bottle. The user is notified that a refill is needed by the flashing “RE-FILL” light on the lid (rightmost image).

Conclusion:

Currently, this system just flashes a light on the item that needs refilling, but it could also snap a photograph of the offending user and—if the container is not refilled—upload it to a “you have violated the social contract” web site for public shaming.

PROS: Brings harmony to all shared-living situations.

CONS: Might be awkward if you use the last soy sauce during an earthquake and you can’t get any more for a while, so you’re stuck trying to survive while a beeping soy sauce bottle lid is threatening to publicly shame you. On the other hand, this is kind of the future we signed up for, right?

There are a lot of TASTE-themed cooking / food review shoes. But the market is still lacking in SMELL and TOUCH review TV programs. Create a new genre of TV show today!

Background:

Thousands of hours of food-themed television shows exist. Not all of these are strictly utilitarian “how to cook” shows, either—many consist of a charismatic host going from country to country and describing the fine tastes of exotic foods.

The issue:

This is a bit strange, isn’t it? Television is completely incapable of conveying taste, smell, and texture, which are the key elements of food enjoyment. And yet, here we are, with dozens of shows consisting of “wow, this steak tastes AMAZING!! If only you, the viewer, could enjoy it like I am enjoying it now!”

Proposal:

Evidently, the lack of taste-conveying technology is no obstacle to people’s enjoyment of “food experience” television: so why not expand to other counterintuitive genres?

Two proposals:

Proposal #1: “Smell Review TV” (Figure 1): A panel of B-list actors partake in smelling of various substances. They then describe the smell and rate it on a five-star scale. Proposed pilot episode: “Animal Fur That Got Wet: Which One Smells The Most Horrendous?”

Fig. 1: There are, shockingly, NO current television shows that focus on travelers going around the world and rating various smells. Maybe it’s time for that to change!

Proposal #2: “Tactile Time” (Figure 2): A famous British actor (who will work cheaply) travels goes to various countries and finds interestingly textured objects. He then describes and rates each sensation. Example: (while poking at at tortoise shell) “Hmmm, this tortoise shell: well, it’s rather…. rather like plastic in a way? A bit rough. No give to it, you know? Not as cold as I had expected, really not like a stone at all.”

Fig. 2: Who could resist learning about the amazing variety of tactile sensations in the world? Ratings would be off the charts!

Conclusion:

This is still a better idea than Quibi.

PROS: Cheap to produce; might get a cult following.

CONS: Might get an ACTUAL cult following, which could be complicated.

Stop wasting all that time maintaining your long hair—this sartorial secret will save you hours every week!

The issue:

It’s time-consuming—and potentially expensive—to maintain long hair to the exacting standards demanded by society (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: As a result of his unkempt beard, this dubious character is judged harshly by his fellow citizens.

If one could somehow distract and/or obscure the true status of one’s hair, the tyranny of personal hygiene would be escaped!

But is this an impossible dream?

Proposal:

No, it is possible! Specifically, through the means of a “long hair camouflage” shirt made of material that mimics the hair color of the wearer (Figure 2).

The casual observer will be unsure where the long hair / unkempt beard ends and the shirt begins, and will be forced to conclude that the shirt’s wearer is a dapper individual of fine grooming.

Fig. 2: The same raggedy beard from Figure 1 now blends into the hair shirt in Figure 2, indistinguishable to the untrained observer. Success!

Conclusion:

This is the next fashion trend—get ahead of it by reserving your personal hair-colored shirts now!

PROS: Increases self-esteem of wearers, reduces time spent on hair maintenance, thus saving thousands of hours that can be applied toward new Linux screensavers and Python web-scraping libraries.

CONS: None!

Get tricked into voting by the world’s dumbest ballot questions! The incredible secret that may save democracy.

The issue:

Voters frequently are uninterested in the details of government: frequently, elections have low turnout even when critical issues are at stake.

Proposal:

Paradoxically, people can be more excited less important issues that are easier to understand (this is also referred to as “bikeshedding”).

Thus, this proposal aims to “trick” voters into being interested in an election by having a totally meaningless (yet superficially appealing) “ultra-easy” question on every ballot.

This sort of question would need to be incredibly easy to understand (Fig. 1) and require no civics knowledge.

Fig. 1: Here, the ultra-easy question is “which additional flag should the city zoo fly?” Text of the ballot proposition: “Proposition Z1 amends the constitution to require the zoo add a flag for Wally the Walrus (left). This is mutually exclusive with ballot measure Z2, which mandates the flying of the Eddie the Eel gold-fringe admiralty flag (right).”

These ballot proposals should ideally also make people extremely angry so they’ll fight each other online about it, thus increasing voter engagement. One might think of the “what color is the dress” question from 2015.

The non-cynical goal of this voting plan is to get voters interested in these easy-to-understand ballot measures as a “gateway” to investigating the more important issues.

Fig. 2: The voting measure could even be more abstract. For example: “Proposition B: The color BLUE is affirmed as being superior to the color PURPLE.” This has the advantage of requiring no action (or cost) on the part of the government.

PROS: May increase civic engagement!

CONS: Or it could just bring totally apathetic voters in to vote un-informedly on the actually-important issues on the ballot! Also, if you have to trick citizens into voting, maybe something more fundamental is wrong?

P.S.: See the previous idea of disqualifying ballots that contain a “wrong” answer:  https://worstplans.com/tag/divination-of-slithering-is-a-thing-now/

This amazing full-coverage home security system will prevent your home from burglary even if someone manages to get inside!

Background:

Residential homes are often protected from burglary by locked doors and locked windows (Figure 1), and occasionally by more substantial measures such as barred windows (Figure 2).

The issue:

However, none of that helps once an intruder breaches the perimeter of the home: once they’re inside, they are free to loot at their leisure—an unoccupied home has no further internal defenses.

Fig. 1: A cross-section of two rooms from a normal home.

Fig. 2: The traditional approach to home security is to defend the perimeter—here, we see the addition of barred windows. These can be helpful to make a home burglary-resistant, but may be a liability to the home’s residents in case of fire.

Proposal:

In order to make the inside of a home burglary-resistant without resorting to illegal booby traps, we can just create a security system that makes the interior of the home extremely unappealing to traverse.

One approach might be to have sliding metal dividers that can be raised out of the floor when all residents leave (Figure 3). This would make it nearly impossible to navigate the home while the system was armed, yet would not pose any threat to the residents in case of accidental deployment.

Fig. 3: These raise-able metal objects can telescope out of the floor when required (up to a height of, say, 3 to 5 feet), and can collapse back into the floor while not needed. If the lifting mechanism is sufficiently low power, it would even be safe to place these all over the house: even if a table / chair / person / etc was on top of one of these plus-shaped home-defense objects, that specific one would just remain in the floor even while the system was armed.

The metal-slat security system described in Figure 3 would be expensive to install, since it would require an elaborate floor mechanism. For home remodeling on a budget, see the simplified (but equally effective) proposal in Figure 4.

Fig. 4: As a cheaper but more potentially injurious alternative, giant spools of razor wire could be concealed in the walls. When the owner is away and the security system is armed, the razor wire would unspool and fill the room with deadly blades. On the owner’s return, the razor wire would coil back up, like an exceptionally dangerous tape measure. The only downside here would be if the system accidentally activated itself while you were taking a nap, and you woke up to discover your room filled with deadly razor wire. That would be a bummer!

Conclusion:

Next time you consult your architect for constructing a new mansion, make sure to keep these home-defense tips in mind.

PROS: Prevents thieves from stealing hundreds of dollars worth of televisions and cell phone chargers from your residence!

CONS: Might be over-complicated compared to the lower-tech version of just putting medieval portcullises between each room.

A proposal for using large televisions as external monitors will make your laptop life easier and prevent eyestrain! And it’s a software-only solution!

Background:

Extremely large TVs have now become cheap enough to use as gigantic computer monitors. It’s possible to find a 55+” television with high enough resolution and low enough latency to work as an external monitor for even the most discerning computer-ologist.

The issue:

Most desks are not set up to accommodate a 55″ television as a monitor. In particular, the most immediately obvious arrangement—laptop in front of monitor—has the disadvantage of having a large area of the monitor blocked by the laptop (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: In this animation, we can see the red “masked out” region where the laptop screen blocks the view of the TV. This wouldn’t be a problem if the system software knew not to put windows in the red area—but since it doesn’t, the user will have to constantly rearrange their windows to avoid this “dead zone.”

Proposal:

In order to fix this laptop-blocking-screen issue, we turn to a simple software fix: simply split the monitor into three rectangular sub-monitors that are NOT blocked by the laptop screen (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Since the system software already understands how to deal with multiple monitors, we just need to convince it that our TV is actually three separate sub-displays (screens 2, 3, and 4 here).

Fig. 3: We can see an “in-use” mockup of the multi-monitor setup here.

Instead of splitting up a monitor into three rectangular sub-displays, it might also be possible to allow a user to “mask out” an arbitrary region of a monitor as a “dead zone” to be ignored by the system (Figure 4). This would allow the external display to still be treated as a single monitor, rather than 3 separate ones. Although a non-rectangular display may seem odd, there is precedent for it in smartphones: the Apple iPhone X “notch” and the “hole punch displays” introduced in 2019 are common examples.

Fig. 4: The red outline here shows an extreme example of how a non-rectangular external monitor might be used. Perhaps if these irregularly-shaped setups become common, the weird windows of 1990s Winamp “skins” will make a triumphant return as well!

Conclusion:

Is it possible that a far-away television is better for eyestrain than a smaller-but-closer computer monitor? Maybe! Some sort of legitimate eyeball scientist should weigh in on this matter.

PROS: The multi-monitor setup would probably actually work, although irregularly-shaped displays might be a hassle.

CONS: Could have very limited appeal.

Is it true that TWO electoral colleges are better than one? Improving the American political system by adding a second “mega-region”-based electoral college.

Background:

Every four years, interest is re-kindled in the odd “Electoral College”-based method of tallying up American presidential votes.

Since the electoral votes are actually assigned on a per-state[*] basis (Figure 1), this has the side effect of making the presidential elections hinge on a few “battleground” districts—tiny subsets of swing states whose voting outcome isn’t already predictable.

Thus, only voters in these regions actually need to be granted presidential boons in order to persuade them—voters in the vast majority of states can be safely ignored.

[*] Some states split their electoral votes between candidates, but this is not common.

Fig. 1: Since electoral votes are (generally) assigned on a per-state basis, you don’t actually need to know the percentage of voters in each state who voted a certain way. A map like this one would be sufficient!

The issue:

People frequently discuss the idea of changing the electoral college system to a one-vote-per-person system.

However, very little consideration has gone into the other direction—having a SECOND electoral college, essentially an “electoral college for the electoral college.”

If one electoral college is good, maybe two would be better?

Proposal:

Here, we propose that the United States be grouped—for the purposes of elections only—into 10 five-state “electoral mega-regions.” Washington D.C. will retain its 3 electoral votes, and will be counted as a secret “Megaregion Zero” (not shown on map).

(To increase the level of mystery, its votes will only be used in cases of ties, and will not be included in tallies otherwise.)

Fig. 2A: Ten megaregions, each consisting of five states, have been gerrymandered together into this proposed grouping. See figure 2B for an examination of their electoral votes

Then, each of these megaregions would cast its aggregated “mega-electoral-votes” just as the normal electoral votes are determined.

Fig. 2B: One interesting failure mode of this method of grouping—and something that may make it a difficult sell—is that some groupings actually just “delete” the votes of certain states. For example, in Megaregion 6, Texas has a majority of votes for the entire region, as does California in Megaregion 7. Thus, this system serves to remove the following eight states from the electoral pool entirely: Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

In order to fix the disenfranchisement problem described in Fig 2B, we could assign the votes of each megaregion based on a a simple majority of its states: instead of allowing Texas to entirely determine the outcome of Megaregion 6 (as it would if we weighted states by population or electoral votes), we would count each state as a single vote: so it would be a “best 3 out of 5” for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Alaska.

With this “one state / one vote” method, every state would be important in assigning the votes of the megaregion.

Conclusion:

Thanks to this reformed system, politics will be saved forever. Also, this may showcase the electoral college system, leading other countries to adopt it.

PROS: Improves the electoral college system by adding a second layer, thus multiplying its benefits.

CONS: It’s somehow theoretically possible that this might lead to gerrymandering???

See below for an additional example of this system in action.

Fig. 3A: If the states voted as above, for the RED, BLUE, YELLOW, and PURPLE parties, the updated megaregion-voting-assignment process would allocate the votes as shown in Figure 3B (not described: a tiebreaking process for dealing with situations in which the split is 2:2:1 or 1:1:1:1:1—presumably ties would be broken by a coin flip or something).
Fig. 3B: Now that each state has cast its (single) megaregion vote (as shown in figure 3A), we see how the state’s votes are distributed on a per-megaregion basis.

Somehow, computer desks have failed to evolve and adapt to the threat of spilled coffee. Until now, that is!

Background:

The traditional flat-surfaced desk has been more-or-less unchanged for thousands of years.

The issue:

People often place a drink on their desk. However, this makes it very easy to accidentally knock the drink over onto (depending on the era) a stack of rolled-up papyrus scrolls, a Gutenberg Bible, or a laptop (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: In this hypothetical desk-spill scenario, the spilled coffee gets everywhere. Disaster!

Proposal:

Desks should have a sunken “put your drinks here” area where they can safely spill without ruining your workspace (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: This modified desk has a sunken glass-enclosed “put a drink here” area on the left. Now, wild gesticulation on video chat is less likely to result in a computer-replacement-requiring disaster!

Conclusion:

This would be a great way for a furniture maker to drum up new business. Throw away your outdated “flat surface” desks and buy a new one!

PROS: Actually practical!

CONS: None!

With “sponsored auto-correct,” you’ll be able to buy a phone for even cheaper! And it will only be SOMEWHAT infuriating to use!

Background:

When typing on a phone with an on-screen virtual keyboard, the auto-correct feature is essential.

Strangely, this auto-correct / auto-complete feature has never been monetized!

Proposal:

In order to bring great deals to consumers and new advertising opportunities to companies, we describe the following auto-correct enhancement.

Currently, auto-correct is boring and predicable. For example:

  • Typing “I’m going” may suggest the following completions: “to,” “on,” or “out.”
  • Typing: “I like” may suggest “that,” “the,” or “it.”

These are reasonable guesses, but what if we enhanced the autocorrect system to allow for sponsored suggestions (Figure 1).

“I’m going” could suggest:

  • “I’m going to
  • “I’m going on
  • “I’m going—but first, I’m going to drink a refreshing [BRAND NAME] soda, and then

The particular [BRAND NAME] would be determined by whichever company was the highest bidder for the auto-correct ad.

Fig. 1: Left: the traditional autocorrect system suggests “soo__” -> “soon.” Right: the improved ad-sponsored system inserts a valuable promotion into this otherwise-boring text message.

It would also be possible to increase national pride and patriotism by changing the autocorrect to insert mandatory patriotic messages, such as:

“I like” ➡

  • “I like the
  •  “I like our glorious leader-for-life, who will lead our nation to victory over our cowardly foes
  •  “I like to

Or

“I support” ➡

  • “I support the
  • “I support quartering troops in my house—it’s my patriotic duty as a citizen
  • “I support it

Conclusion:

The best part about this system is that each ad implicitly carries the endorsement of the sender: it’s more persuasive to have a friend or trusted colleague text you with “I’ll be at the meeting, let me just finish this Ultra Crunch™ Cereal first” than to just see an impersonal ad demanding that you eat that specific cereal.

There is some prior work in this area: the Amazon Kindle “with special offers” shows ads on its screen while it’s sleeping, in return for being somewhat cheaper.

As an added bonus, each ad reaches TWO people (the sender and the recipient)!

PROS: Helps people afford more extravagant cell phones by subsidizing their purchases in return for ads infecting the auto-correct system.

CONS: None!