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Category: Design

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.

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!

With this “breakaway safety earring,” you need never again fear having your ear yanked off your head due to an earring-related mishap! This system also works for ties, necklaces, rings, and capes.

Background:

Humans frequently wear metal adornments that have a small chance of being caught on something. Under most circumstances, this is fine, but occasionally this may lead to situations with a high probability of disaster (e.g. operating a lathe while wearing a dangly necklace).

The issue:

Somehow, it is still the case that very little jewelry has a “break-away” safety feature that ensures that the object will disassemble itself before the attached body part is disassembled—generally, the situation that arises is the one shown in Figure 1.

Fig. 1: The metal earring is much stronger than the mammalian ear, potentially leading to the (slightly dramatized) event above.

This is surprising, since “break-away safety connector” has existed for decades, in:

  • Kitchen counter hot-water boilers, which often have a magnetically-attached power cord.
  • The Apple “MagSafe” laptop connector that (usually) disconnects if someone trips over the power cord.
  • The 2001 Microsoft Xbox wired controller’s break-away cable.

But for whatever reason, search terms like “break-away earring,” “magnetic safety earring,” and “Apple MagSafe connector earring” seem to indicate that break-away safety earrings are not a product under widespread commercial production!

Proposal:

The proposal is simple and low-cost: simply add a magnetic safety section to earrings, jewelry, ties, rings, and other adornments that might be caught on something.

As shown in Figure 2, this break-away safety section will detach if pulled with sufficient force, reducing the likelihood of disaster. 

Fig. 2: The two-part magnetic connector shown at “A” will come apart if pulled with sufficient force. Compare the ear’s final situation here to the less-than-optimal situation in Figure 1.

Conclusion:

Although earrings are the most immediately obvious application of this type of safety connector, it would also be feasible for:

  • Rings (see The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for a situation in which this would have been useful)
  • Ties (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit for a situation where this would have been useful)
  • Necklaces
  • Capes (see The Incredibles for a situation where this would have been useful)

PROS: Saves the wearer from experiencing traumatic unscheduled disassembly.

CONS: Significantly increases the chance of losing the earring / ring in question. But this is a small price to pay!

Video chat’s next major feature: physical positioning of participants (“mingle at a party” options) to allow a huge chat to be split into manageable groups!

Background:

With the 2020 COVID plague, work-related video chats have become increasingly full of a large number of participants (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Video chat software (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, Hangouts, Meet, Duo, Skype, and more) typically only allows participants to appear in a randomly-ordered grid. All participants are part of the same (single) discussion: there is no easy way to have a “side discussion” and then rejoin the main conversation.

The issue:

Video chats have a problem that in-person office work does not: there is no convenient way for participants of an unreasonably-large video chat group to split off into subgroups.

Instead, every discussion must take place in a SINGLE mega-discussion with all participants, or people need to leave the mega-discussion and start their own exclusive video chat groups. People often get around this by having side discussions over text, but that’s not really a great solution either.

Proposal:

In a physical workspace, it’s easy to have a small discussion: simply PHYSICALLY relocate the individuals in the conversation to an empty lunchroom table or meeting room.

To improve video chat, we simply implement the same feature: instead of each video participant just being a randomly-placed square in a grid, now each participant can also specify their location on a virtual floor plan (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Left: the old-fashioned style of video chat. Right: the updated video chat, where you can only hear and see participants who are in close physical proximity. In this case, the chat has split into groups A, B, and C (shown here from the perspective of a person in Group B). Everyone in Group B has a normal video chat, but can only faintly hear low-audio-volume chats going on in groups A and C.

Importantly, it’s still possible to see and hear people who are somewhat nearby on the floor plan, but at a very low volume. So you can know that a conversation is going on, and join in if necessary, but it won’t drown out your primary discussion.

Previous Examples:

Some video games implement a system like this (“proximity audio”), in which you can hear voice chat only from nearby players. However, as far as I am aware, this has never been a feature in any office-focused collaboration software.

PROS: This seems like it should actually exist! Maybe it hasn’t been developed before due to the lack of compelling business case for having large numbers of people on video calls.

CONS: Might lead to a tyrannically oppressive workplace in which work-from-home employees are mandated to always be available on video chat and present on a virtual floor plan.

Golf clubs are now obsolete: this bike-pump-based “air pressure golf cannon” system promotes the sport to a new level of precision and accuracy!

Background:

A successful game of golf is heavily dependent on the technical execution of the golf swing.

The issue:

It is possible to imagine many games that are similar to “golf,” except that they do not use a golf club to drive the ball (perhaps “frisbee™ golf” is the most well-known existing example, although it does not use a golf ball).

Proposal:

Let’s imagine a bare-bones version of “artillery / cannon golf” with only the following two elements:

  1. Select a force to apply to the golf ball…
  2. …and select the direction to apply this force.

(This is the approach seen in most video game implementations of golf, since pre-2000 controllers had no satisfactory way of approximating a golf swing.)

Figure 2 details a method of implementing this abstracted “cannon golf.”

Fig. 1: A bike pump (A) supplies pressure to the air cannon, which can be tilted in various precisely-measured directions (B). A trigger at (C) releases the air into the cannon, propelling the standard golf ball (D) into the air.

The advantage of this system is that it allows a “cannon golf” player to understand the theory of golf without requiring strength or technical execution skills: the required abilities are instead 1) an understanding of trajectories, 2) accurate evaluation of distance, and 3) an understanding of the effects of the current wind direction(s).

Figure 2 shows a mockup of what “cannon golf” might look like on a golf course.

Fig. 2: The application of the “golf cannon” (shown at position A) might look something like this. This particular trajectory seems to have been chosen poorly, and is likely to land the ball in a sand trap or water hazard.

PROS: Could increase the number of people interested in golf-related activities, thus opening up new revenue streams for golf courses and golf instructors.

CONS: This system might evolve into a computer-controlled cannon that plays the game itself, thus hastening the arrival of human-oppressing robotic overlords.

“Vertical farming” in skyscrapers might be the next trend in locally-grown food, but wait until you hear about HORIZONTAL farming!

Background:

Recently, there has been discussion around the futuristic concept of “vertical farming”: growing crops in skyscraper-style greenhouses in city centers.

The issue:

Although there are many conceptual advantages to such a farm, there is at least one major difficulty: light. Obviously, only the topmost layer of a vertical farm would be practical to light with sunlight (Figure 1): lower layers would need to be lit with high-efficiency narrow-spectral-band LED lighting.

Fig. 1: This vertical farm (right) has a major downside: there’s really only one “floor” worth of sunlight, so it’s impractical to use sunlight for crop growth. Although LED lights can be extremely efficient, the power requirements of a large-scale vertical farm would be substantial.

Proposal:

The “horizontal farm” is the best of both worlds: a structure that can fit in the footprint of a single office building, yet is capable of harnessing sunlight from dozens of adjacent city blocks.

The horizontal farm building is designed as follows: it consists of a vertical stack of floors, just like a traditional skyscraper. However, the floors are not directly connected to each other: instead, they hang from two vertical rails that can pivot to a horizontal orientation.

When the rails begin rotating to the horizontal position (Figure 2), each “farm floor” pivots in the opposite direction, thus maintaining a horizontal orientation at all times.


Fig. 2: Each floor on this vertical farm is mounted on an enormous central pivot point. The building can be slowly turned from a vertical to a horizontal orientation. Now the plants can directly use the sun, cutting out the LED lighting middle-man!

Conclusion:

This bold new architectural design could be the future of locally-grown food!

PROS: Allows farming to harness the power of the sun directly, with no intermediate energy conversion (to LED lighting) required! Also has the advantage of providing valuable shade to city-dwellers who might otherwise get sunburns.

CONS: None!

After fixing your home (thanks to this tip) you need no longer fear accidental “French Revolution”-style decapitation in your kitchen!

Background:

Most kitchens contain a countertop and overhead cabinets. The doors on these cabinets generally swing open.

The issue:

An unlucky individual may stand up underneath one of these open cabinet doors and injure themselves on the edge.

Although this situation may seem unlikely, it can arise when a person bends over to pick up something that has fallen onto the kitchen floor (Figure 1).


Fig. 1: This hapless kitchen dweller has forgotten that the kitchen cabinet is open, and has stood up directly into it. Ouch!

Proposal:

A few potential fixes are immediately obvious:

  1. Cabinet doors could be removed entirely. They are generally only there for aesthetic purposes anyway!
  2. Sliding doors could be used. However, this usually means that only half of the cabinets can be open at one time, and sliding doors have their own issues.
  3. The edges of each cabinet door could be padded with foam. This would reduce cabinet-collision injury.
  4. Each cabinet door could be constructed out of gingerbread, so that it would safely crumble away upon contact with a person’s head.

Each of these fixes has some downsides. But the ultimate solution is both durable and visually indistinguishable from a regular cabinet: a “multi-panel safety door” in which multiple pieces of wood are loosely connected by springs (Figure 2).

If a person hits their head one one of the panels, they’ll just feel a slight amount of force as the spring compresses (and the piece of wood is pushed out of the way).


Fig. 2: A) The “multi-panel ‘safety’ door” is outwardly identical to a regular cabinet door. B) This “X-ray” view of the safety door shows that it is actually four separate pieces connected by springs: a “primary” part in the top left (red / brown) and three separate wooden edge pieces (blue and green). These edge pieces are loosely connected: if a person hits their head on the edge, the force will compress the springs a bit (and the edge piece will move inward), but the person will not be decapitated.

Conclusion:

After I patent this idea, you should amend your city’s residential building code to mandate this style of cabinet door. It’s the only safe option!

PROS: Reduces accidental kitchen decapitations, thus saving health care costs.

CONS: These complicated doors would probably require occasional maintenance.

Never be concerned whether or not your household electronics are spying on you! This new repurposing of the “ON AIR” sign will save you from fretting!

Background:

It seems that nearly every electronic device with a camera or microphone is now Internet-enabled and can wirelessly send video and audio to the world.

The issue:

Due to the preponderance of electronic hardware in a modern household, it can be difficult which (if any) device is spying on you at that exact moment (Figure 1).

This is a relatively new phenomenon, since it used to be the case that:

  1. Cameras were relatively large
  2. Non-CIA recording devices generally needed to be physically wired to a power source and network cable.

Fig. 1: One of these devices is currently streaming video from the user’s house—but which one? Video-enabled devices sometimes have a recording light (but not always: e.g. phones, tablets), but checking these lights is still annoying and time-consuming. And audio recording generally has no indication whatsoever!

Proposal:

The classic solution to the “are we recording right now?” question is a lit-up “ON AIR” sign [see examples] that can light up whenever a TV station is broadcasting.

This same concept can be applied to modern devices: a person would buy a new piece of “ON AIR” hardware (this would essentially just be a WiFi-enabled screen). This ON AIR sign would connect to the household WiFi network light up any time it detected video being sent out to the Internet.

Detecting that streaming is happening could occur in two ways:

1) Network traffic analysis can generally identify data as “this is a stream of video / audio.” This is a solution that would probably work in most cases.

2) Each video/audio-enabled device can talk to the ON AIR sign over WiFi and notify it that streaming is occurring. This would be on the “honor system”: well-behaved software would periodically report that it was streaming. One benefit of this opt-in method is that streaming devices could send additional metadata: e.g., instead of just “ON AIR (Some computer is sending video),” the user would see “ON AIR (Joe’s PowerBook G4, streaming video over RealPlayer for 4:34)”.


Fig. 2: Thanks to this lit-up “ON AIR” sign, the user knows that there is some device recording them, and exactly which device is responsible (in this case, the “smart television”).

Of course, neither of these methods is a 100% guarantee of detecting live video being streamed: for example, a phone that was using its cellular data to stream would not be detected.

Conclusion:

This could probably be a legitimate product!

PROS: Would be a good value-add option for a router manufacturer. “This router will light up if it detects outgoing video/audio!”

CONS: Might cause the user to become extremely paranoid upon realizing that their watch, tablet, computer, phone, external monitor, fitness tracker, headphones, and dozens of other devices could all be surreptitiously spying at any time.

Will this highly dubious legal loophole allow you to open a casino anywhere? The new “stock market casino” app proposal will amaze you.

Background:

  1. In most regions of the world, gambling is regulated by government bodies.
  2. Unrelatedly, one of the criticisms of the stock market (especially the derivatives market) is that many participants use it exactly like a casino.

Proposal:

In regions where gambling is prohibited, but access to a stock market exists, a stock trading app could be designed that is a thinly-disguised casino.

Instead of playing the slots in a traditional casino, participants in this “stock casino” could spin a wheel to buy random stocks or mysterious financial instruments (Figure 1).

1-stock-casino-main-page.png

Fig. 1: A user interface mock-up for the proposed “STOCKASINO” app. Note the “PURCHASE RANDOM ‘HOT’ STOCK” button.

Normally, a person who is day-trading stocks might need to wait for weeks in order to realize a substantial profit (or loss). Fortunately, this process can be hastened using leverage, which will allow gains and losses to be multiplied. A user will be able to win big—or lose it all!—on just a 1% price movement of a stock, if they use enough leverage. In this way, a user can win or lose within hours, rather than needing to wait for weeks.

Gamification:

As a secondary bonus feature, we can “gamify” the stock-buying experience in order to encourage more trading activity (i.e. more profit for the operator of the app).

Specifically, we will use the “in-game achievement” system (AKA “badges” or “trophies”) in which users are awarded special app “badges” for particularly noteworthy or dangerous trading-related activities (Figure 2). This could encourage users to make a lot more trades than they otherwise would (and risk a lot more of their savings).

2-stock-casino-achievement-badges

Fig. 2: The app might be able to entice normally-cautious “investors” (we’ll call them that) into dangerous trades by awarding trophies to particularly terrible ideas. My personal favorite is the “QUICK CLIK” badge above (in purple), which is awarded to an investor who purchases a stock within 60 seconds of it first being available.

One complication of this “stock casino” system is that stock markets have limited hours, but we really want to keep the app operational 24 hours a day. A developer would probably need to include stock exchanges in other time zones as well, which increases up-front development complexity.

Conclusion:

Just to be safe, anyone developing this app should do it in close collaboration with (and in the territory of) a nation that does not extradite.

PROS: Great way for a developer to make a profit while promoting financial irresponsibility.

CONS: Probably not a great idea to base your business and future not-being-in-prison status on a highly theoretical “loophole” that may not even exist.