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Category: UI / UX

Get exercise and improve your self-control with this new eco-friendly hand-crank-powered cell phone!

The issue:

It is frequently asserted that people are addicted to cell phones. If only there were a technical solution to this problem!

Proposal:

Here’s a simple solution to discourage casual cell phone use: a cell phone with two features:

  1. A strict limit on the amount of time you can use each program. (This feature already exists.)
  2. A hand crank on the side of the phone (Figure 1) that lets you circumvent the limit while you turn the crank.
    • (Turning the crank also charges the phone battery, which makes this an eco-friendly idea as well.)
1-phone-plus-crank.png

Fig. 1: The crank-powered phone at left has reached its daily limit of unmetered browsing. In order to keep using it, its owner must turn the charger crank (shown at right). Note that the manufacturer of this phone has slavishly copied the 2017 iPhone X notch.

Alternatives to the crank could also be employed: foot pedals, a bellows, or The Wheel of Pain from the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie.

The crank could also be useful in other situations (Figure 2).

2-slot-machine-option.png

Fig. 2: The charger crank would add verisimilitude to this slot machine app.

Conclusion:

This eco-friendly idea is guaranteed to be a staple of future phone / tablet / laptop design.

Alternative Version:

An alternative formulation of this idea would be to not meter usage by time, but just require a user to turn the crank 50 times before an app will launch or a web page will load.

PROS: Discourages casual phone use out of boredom / habit. Provides a good arm workout, especially if you remember to flip it 180º occasionally to work out both arms.

CONS: Might not actually reduce phone use, but now there would be an annoying grinding sound of people turning cell phone cranks everywhere. Would increase the frequency of dropped phones.

Prevent the UNWASHED MASSES from sharing their stupidity on your top-tier Internet forum with this new insane life-saving trick that you owe it to yourself to know! Don’t hike in the wilderness without this one weird tip!!!

Background:

Online discussion forums often have posts that look like this:

Air pollution actually SAVES 10,000 lives per day worldwide

>109 Comments

[Upvote] [Downvote] [View Comments]

Or:

Futuristic economic model allows Swedes to make $200,000 a year without having jobs

>274 Comments

[Upvote] [Downvote] [View Comments]

The issue:

Crucially, the comment page is usually completely separate from the original article, so readers can post their gut reactions to the headline without reading the associated article (example headline in Figure 1).

1-horsehaters.png

Fig. 1: An example Reddit-style headline. Better comment on it! In order to comment quickly, I’d better only read the text of the headline!

Proposal #1:

In order to be allowed to comment on an article, you have to show that you have actually read the article.

This works as follows:

  • The person who posted the original article also writes a couple of quiz questions that would be easily answered by anyone who had read the article.
  • In the comment box, the submit button is replaced by a question and several buttons with possible answers. (Figure 1.)
    • For example, “What country is the article about?”
      • With the possible response buttons:
        • “Submit comment: JAPAN
        • and “Submit comment: INDIA.”
    • If you click the wrong button, your comment is sent to the server and appears (to you) as if it has been posted, but it doesn’t show up to anyone else (this is also referred to as “shadow banning”).

 

2-buttons.png

Fig. 2: If you wanted to comment on the article in Figure 1, you’d need to click on one of the buttons here. If you click on the wrong one, your comment is deleted.

Proposal #2:

One problem with the first proposal is that it makes it slightly more annoying to post an article (since the original poster has to write a few quiz questions).

In proposal #2, the questions are generated automatically, and are extremely basic, like “What is the last word in the article?” or “What is the first word in the second paragraph of the article?”

(This is a method that was used in 1980s and 1990s computer game copy protection.)

Although this method would not prevent a user from just clicking the article, letting it load, finding the relevant word, and closing the article, it would probably increase the likelihood that the commenter would read at least a portion of the article, since it would have to at least be loaded in their browser.

Conclusion:

Figure 3 shows how the user interface might be implemented.

 

3-comment-example.png

Fig. 3: An example of how this might work in an actual Internet post.

PROS: Might improve the quality of Internet comments. Also a great way to annoy your users.

CONS: None! It’s the pinnacle of Internet commenting technology.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Stop paying living wages and replace all your employees by robots—even if the A.I. isn’t there yet to accomplish the task that the employees did! See below for how this revolutionary new way of thinking is possible. Also if you are not a cartoonish plutocrat with a top hat, please do not read this post.

Background:

Running a business is expensive, and employee wages are usually a huge fraction of total costs (see Figure 1).

However, these jobs can’t always be eliminated: many jobs still REQUIRE a human employee, and jobs that require an on-site presence can’t be outsourced.

guy-regular

Fig. 1: This employee has to be on-site to operate the poorly-drawn green rectangles in front of him. He costs 8 of these nebulous “currency units” each day.

Proposal:

Some jobs require an on-site presence and are difficult to outsource, but perhaps we just weren’t thinking hard enough!

In this proposal, a difficult-to-automate on-site task can still be solved by a human operator, except the operator is living far away (in a cheaper cost-of-living country).

The remote operator then performs the difficult-to-automate task using a virtual reality interface (Figure 2) that controls an on-site robot*.

[*] More properly, but verbosely, referred to as a “remote manipulator.”

robot

Fig. 2: Employee (b) in a low-wage country uses the virtual reality / telepresence gloves (c) which are connected to computer (d) and Internet-connected antenna (e) to send a signal (f) to the far-away robot (g) in the high-wage country. Now the guy from Figure 1 can be fired and replaced by Figure 2 guy plus Figure 2 robot (which costs two “$” per day in ongoing maintenance costs). Even with this new robot-maintenance expense, the system is much cheaper than the traditional one in Figure 1.

Conclusion:

Now you can fire all your local employees and replace them with remotely-operated robot arms operated by underpaid foreign laborers.

PROS: Reduces operation costs for your company. The employees can retrain and… go do whatever jobs are left for humans, like writing operas.

CON #1: Maybe it shouldn’t be called a “robot” since it’s not autonomous? Apparently you can call this system a “remote manipulator” or “waldo” or “telefactor,” but those haven’t really entered the popular lexicon (yet).

 

CON #2: You might say “hey, if these robots are operated by citizens of a foreign nation and replace all the industrial capacity of my own country, what prevents that country from just deciding, one day, to take all the robots over, seizing my factory in some sort of cyberpunk-flavored Russian Revolution?” Unfortunately, the solution to that is rather long, and there is insufficient space to write it here.