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Category: Health

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.

Prism glasses will improve your posture! Never hunch over your laptop like some kind of Quasimodo again!

Background:

Since laptops are so convenient and portable, many people work in locations that are not set up for long-term ergonomic comfort (for example, dining room tables or coffeeshop counters, e.g. Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: A setup like this is a common work environment, despite its presumably questionable OSHA rating.

The issue:

Since these locations were never designed for laptop use, they are typically set up in such a way that the laptop keyboard and screen are way too low, and you often see people hunching over their laptops in ridiculous fashion (Figure 2).

 

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Fig. 2: This highly dubious pose is the common reality of laptop use in non-optimal situations, and is, additionally, an affront to the human form. People tend to blame themselves for having “bad posture,” but really it’s an inescapable element of such a work environment.

Ideally, people imagine that they would sit up straight, as shown in Figure 3. But that is incompatible with the position of the computer screen.

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Fig. 3: This “ideal posture” scenario is totally unrealistic given the position of the laptop. The user will inevitably return to the situation shown in Figure 2.

Proposal:

Luckily, the fix is simple: a modified version of belay glasses, a type of prism glasses used in rock climbing that were allow wearers to look up without craning their necks.

Except in this case, the prism glasses will look down at the laptop screen, rather than up, as illustrated in Figure 4.

 

 

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Fig. 4: These “prism glasses” (in this case, actually a giant prism attached to a hat) are  suspended in such a way that the user is able to look directly at the prism, yet see the laptop screen below. The prism would presumably not actually be purple, although technically that would be an option.

Conclusion:

Since prism-based belaying glasses already exist (surprisingly, only commercially available after 2007!), laptop prism glasses are probably not totally infeasible.

It would also be possible to use a VR headset to set up something like this, but at that point you might as well just set up a proper work space.

PROS: Improve your posture!

CONS: The “sweet spot” for seeing the screen is probably extremely narrow, so any movement of the wearer’s head may move the laptop screen out of the user’s view. Additionally, even the slightest imperfections in the prism would probably make text very difficult to read.

Outrun a vicious pack of wild dogs as part of your weekly exercise routine! You won’t believe this new way to save money and promote physical fitness!

Background:

Two things that city-dwellers often require are:

  • Motivation to exercise.
  • An expensive dog-walker to walk their dog.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s easy to become lazy and not exercise, and dog-walkers are quite pricey! (Figure 1.)

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Fig. 1: Left: these dogs need to walk, but someone is going to have to be paid to put leashes on them and walk them around the city. What an inefficient use of resources! Right: this person needs to get some exercise (by, say, jogging), but it’s easier to just stay at home and be completely sedentary.

Fortunately, these two modern conundrums can now be solved with a SINGLE amazing plan!

Proposal:

The solution is simple: during the commute home from work, the person who thinks they should go jogging (but is too lazy to motivate themselves to do so) simply ties a dozen or so strips of bacon (or other delicious meats) to themselves.

Then, they register their commute on a ride-sharing-like web site. As the commuter walks by a dog owner’s house, the dog owner gets a text message that they should release their hounds, who will then chase the bacon-laden jogger with single-minded determination. (Figure 2.)

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Fig. 2: The pack of dogs provides ample motivation for this bacon-festooned jogger to continue running.

In this way, the pack of ravenous dogs will motivate the jogger very effectively. If the dogs are sufficiently fixated on the bacon, no leashes would even be required!

Conclusion:

The only downside is that the jogger will, at the end of their commute, need to somehow return the dogs to their owners. Fortunately, this will create a new business opportunity for an “Uber for dogs” ride-sharing company to return the dogs back to their owner: job-creation at its finest!

PROS: Increases fitness of both humans and dogs. Saves money for dog owners who previously had to employ dog-walkers.

CONS: May increase the rate of pack-of-wild-dogs-related dismemberments, which is currently at a historical low in urban areas.

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Supplemental Fig. S1: Original black-and-white drawing of this idea, perhaps for a patent application. Note the photorealistic dog at left, drawn in the style of Renaissance woodcuts. It’s hard to believe, but this was actually drawn on a modern tablet computer!

Improve the grocery shopping experience by tapping into ancient hunter-gatherer instincts! You’ll never believe how much more delicious a pineapple is after you’ve tracked and hunted it for miles through the savannah.

Background:

It’s well-known that presentation affects the perceived taste of food (Figure 1). Can this be used by retailers to increase customer satisfaction?

 

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Fig. 1: Some animals, like this extremely picky snake, do not like to eat food unless it’s clearly fresh (i.e., recently alive). Top: the dead mouse meal receives only a 1-star review from the snake. Bottom: the same mouse receives a 5-star rating, simply because it’s moving.

Proposal:

In order to leverage the same instincts, we propose that all foods should be presented in grocery stores in a “natural” environment to satisfy human hunter-gatherer instincts.

In Figure 2, we show how this might work for a pineapple, which can either be shown in a sterile and unnatural environment or in a jungle-like environment that evokes the thrill of gathering an edible fruit in some ancestral jungle.

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Fig. 2: This savvy shopper is unimpressed by the non-moving pineapple, yet is excited about purchasing the exact same pineapple “straight from the tree.” This might work for other foods too, like carrots and potatoes, even though it would make no sense for them to be dangling from a tree branch.

Conclusion:

Although fruits would be the easiest products to put in a faux “natural” environment (just hang them from a plastic tree), this system could also apply to other products, such as:

  • Reach into a giant beehive while being attacked by giant plastic bees in order to obtain a box of Honey Nut Cheerios.
  • Run through the store chasing a box being pulled by a wire on an overhead track. Once you manage to grab the box and open it, you discover a delicious steak inside.
  • Hold your breath and jump into a Olympic-sized swimming pool that is chilled to a near-freezing 1º Celsius. At the bottom of the pool, you will find a treasure trove of pre-wrapped packages of salmon.

PROS: Allows humans to get back in touch with their ancient roots. Simulates a pre-civilization existence without modern amenities.

CONS: Most shoppers would probably just use an app-based service to pay “sharing economy” workers to endure the bee hives and freezing water. This has the disadvantage of making an already-harsh job even worse, while imparting no benefits on society as a whole.

If you obey the demands of this phone app, you’ll never have to wait at a stoplight again! If you are a pedestrian, anyway. Might also work for bicyclists and drivers!

Background:

In most American cities, four-way intersections with stoplights are the most common form of traffic control.

The issue:

As a pedestrian, these intersections are frustrating: if the stoplights are not synchronized, you’ll randomly encounter red lights while walking from block to block. But even when lights are synchronized, they are synchronized for car driving speeds. Thus, at normal walking speed, a pedestrian will inevitably spend a large fraction of travel time waiting at crosswalks for the light to turn green.

Although a pedestrian can increase or decrease their walking speed, it is difficult to select an optimal speed without knowing exactly when the light will change.

Proposal:

Fortunately, a phone app can easily measure walking speed and distance to the next traffic light, and then display a recommended walking speed that will get a pedestrian to the light when it is green (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Since this phone knows how far the next light is and exactly when the light will change, it can recommend a walking pace that will get its owner to the light while the light is green. The green / gray arrow in the middle of the screen is a “progress bar,” showing the pedestrian’s current position relative to the previous intersection (base of arrow) and the next light (tip of arrow).

 

Using this app, a person can enjoy both a more leisurely pace at lights they’d miss anyway, and can walk ever-so-slightly faster (Figure 2) in order to make it through intersections just before the light turns red.

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Fig. 2: In the top example (A), a pedestrian walks at a uniform pace that causes them to have to wait at two of the three lights. In the bottom example (B), the pedestrian is using our new app, and adjusts their walking speed to hit all the lights while they are green. Recommended walking speed is shown by the orange bar at the very bottom.

Conclusion:

This type of app would probably work for drivers and bicyclists as well (ideally through audio instructions).

PROS: Encourages walking in cities, thus improving national cardiovascular fitness.

CONS: Users of this app might wait at fewer lights, but would be at higher risk of being run over by a car / bicyclist / steamroller while distracted by the app’s various recommendations and statistics.

Reduce your overall level of concern about pets and children drinking deadly household poisons, with this new incredible “decoy poison” that you can store under your sink in front of your household cleaners! BIG CHEMICAL hates this one incredible trick!

Background:

Every year, a large number of children accidentally poison themselves by drinking household chemicals. Cleaning products and pesticides (Figure 1) represent the cause of ~15% of poisoning cases in children under the age of 6, according to the National Capital Poison Center.

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Fig. 1: Many relatively common household products are deadly if ingested by humans.

The issue:

To a child who is illiterate and unfamiliar with conventional warning markings (e.g., a skull), a deadly chemical might plausibly seem like an interesting beverage (Figure 2). Some poisonous substances, like antifreeze, even have an appealing sugary taste.

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Fig. 2: If you find yourself asking “why would anyone, even a child, drink something that is so OBVIOUSLY poison,” consider the perplexity that you yourself would face if required to distinguish foreign-language-labeled energy drinks from automotive fluids. Transmission fluid, or energy drink? Who knows!

Proposal:

The idea is simple: to put a special “decoy” beverage into locations with deadly substances that a child (or pet!) might theoretically get into.

This “decoy” beverage is designed to cause vomiting (and a generally unpleasant experience), to discourage further sampling of the (actually poisonous) chemicals stored in the same area.

Additionally, this would inform the theoretically-paying-attention adults in a home that their “child-proof” cabinet locks had failed to work.

Since this “lure” beverage (Figure 3) would ideally be be the first substance consumed, it should be made to look as appealing as possible, with:

  • A convenient easy-open cap
  • A supplementary straw
  • Colorful eye-catching images on the outside. Maybe even a cartoon mascot!
  • A translucent container to show off the delicious liquid within

Obviously the container should also contain a description of the nature of the product, so that no one outside of the target demographic (i.e. the “about to drink a container of antifreeze” demographic) accidentally drinks it.

 

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Fig. 3: The “decoy” container is designed to be as easy-to-drink and appealing as possible, since it has to be the first under-cabinet substance that is ingested. If it’s the second-most-appealing liquid, then it might as well not even be present.

 

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Fig. 4: Here’s what an under-sink cabinet might look like with the new non-injurious “decoy” substance. Hopefully this will look more appealing than the rat poison or antifreeze!

Conclusion:

Research would be needed to see if the PRO and CON listed below cancel each other out, or perhaps even result in more poison ingestion than before!

PROS: This might actually legitimately work, and would cost almost nothing to produce, since it is just “existing non-deadly emetic plus re-designed product label.”

CONS: The appealing container could attract a child to investigate the “cabinet of deadly chemicals” when they would previously have ignored it. This could lead to the exact opposite of what we are trying to accomplish!

Never burn yourself with scalding hot coffee again, with this one new and majestic type of curly drinking straw! Impress your companions at a banquet with this sophisticated drinking accessory.

Background:

Sometimes, you want to drink a beverage, but it’s too hot.

The issue:

You could just wait for it to cool off naturally, but who has time for that!

And if you were drinking from an insulated thermos, this cooling-off process could take hours.

Proposal:

The basic idea is simple: an ultra-long curly straw that would give the liquid some extra time to cool down as it leaves the cup (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Since this curly straw is so long, there’s extra time for a hot beverage to cool down as it travels through the straw.

However, a standard curly straw will have a minimal cooling effect. Thus, an array of heat sinks are added to the straw, as shown in Figure 2.

 

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Fig. 2: The straw is covered in heat sinks like those used in a desktop computer. Hot liquid (indicated in red) quickly cools off as it travels down the heat-sink-enhanced straw.

Alternatively, a telescoping design could allow the enjoyment of both hot and cold beverages using the same straw (Figure 3).

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Fig. 3: An extendable version of this straw could be useful for both hot and cold beverages. For a cold beverage (A), the straw is collapsed, accordion-style to minimize travel time for the liquid. For a hot beverage (B), the straw is extended out, giving the liquid a longer time to cool down as it travels along the incredibly long straw.

Conclusion:

Don’t drink from a cup or bowl like an animal—only use this fancy straw for your future beverage needs!

PROS: Cools liquid to the optimal temperature for maximum efficiency of consumption. If widespread distribution can be achieved, it will save millions of hours per year (worldwide) that otherwise would have been spent waiting for drinks to cool.

CONS: None!