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Category: Public Safety

Five easy improvements to the despised “four-way or all-way” stop sign! End your confusion about road signage, and never get a ticket for rolling through a stop sign again!


The stop sign, for all its utilitarian simplicity, has a severe and critical shortcoming: it has two different roles, both marked by the same sign (Figure 1).

The two situations, and what the driver must do in each case:

  1. All-way stop: driver can casually check for other cars right there at the intersection, and then proceed.
  2. Two-way stop: driver must look far down the road for quite some distance to identify any fast-traveling cross traffic.

These two situations are TOTALLY DIFFERENT, but the sign marking them is the same (Figure 1).



Fig. 1: Is this an all-way stop or a two-way stop? Who knows! See Figure 2 for the answer.


Fig 2: Oh, it was a two-way stop. I hope the driver looked far down the road before proceeding!

Previous attempts at solving this problem:

This is a recognized problem, and sign designers have attempted to (poorly) solve it before, as shown in Figure 3.

So far, they have been completely unsuccessful.

Fig 3: Some (but not all!) signs specifically indicate “Cross traffic does not stop” or “All-way stop.” But just the fact that a subtitle is required is an admission that these signs are fundamentally flawed.


The “all-way” and “partial-way” stop signs need to be clearly different at a glance.

See Figure 4 for a proposal that is backwards-compatible with existing stop signs.

Fig 4: Proposal A (“Four leafed clover”): The traditional “octagon” stop sign (left) will now indicate partial-way stops: its meaning is now upgraded to “be EXTRA CAREFUL, because the cross traffic does not stop!”

The new “four leafed clover” stop sign (right) indicates an all-way stop, where the driver only needs to look for traffic at that stop sign before proceeding. Because existing stop signs are all the “be extra careful!” kind, we don’t need to worry about immediately replacing all existing stop signs.


Fig 5: Here is an alternative form of the “four leaf clover” sign proposed above.

Fig 6: Substantially altering the silhouette of the stop sign would make the difference even more obvious, as shown in this “emphatically on-fire” stop sign.


Fig 7: Sometimes it may be insufficient to just indicate whether or not an intersection is all-way or partial-way. For example, in a (rare) partial-way intersection with more than four intersecting streets, a driver may entirely miss a street.

Here, the number of dots on the stop sign indicates the number of non-stopping incoming roads. This allows the driver to know how many roads they should be looking out for.

So the five-dot sign would indicate a (very rare) 6-way intersection with only one stop sign, the three-dot one would be a four-way intersection (again, with just one stop sign), and the no-dot sign would indicate an all-way stop.

(A reflective yellow border would indicate that this is a “new style” stop sign, to avoid confusion with the previous no-border signs—otherwise, every old-style stop sign would seem to indicate an all-way stop.)

Bonus idea: It has been shown that humans have a deep-seated primal reaction to certain stimuli, such as a silhouette of a spider or of a snake about to strike. In order to make the stop sign stand out even more, so no one would ever miss it out of the corner of their eye, perhaps it could be fashioned into the likeness of a cobra, poised to strike.

PROS: May reduce traffic accidents, especially if a simple backwards-compatible system like the one in Figure 4 is adopted.

CONS: People might start to treat the partial-way “four leaf clover” stop signs like “yield” signs, and roll right through them.

You won’t believe how I never fell into a bottomless pit again, thanks to this one weird trick. Podiatrists hate it! Probably.


One of the leading causes of sidewalk-based injury is tripping on uneven pavement and/or falling into a manhole. Figure 1 illustrates one of the dangers inherent in modern sidewalks.

This danger has become even more pronounced now that people are more likely to be looking at their cell phones as they walk.


Fig. 1: As you walk along the sidewalk, be on the lookout for obstacles in your path! This open telecommunications panel could easily trip you and/or cause you to fall into a tangled nest of wires.


An array of sensors on the front of the shoe will constantly scan for irregularities in the upcoming pavement.

  • Case 1: If the shoe detects an elevated obstacle (such as a stair step up or an object in the way), a cell-phone-vibrate-style motor located above the user’s toes will buzz.
  • Case 2: If the shoe detects a sudden drop (such as a stair step down, an open manhole cover, or a measureless abyss), a motor located below the user’s toes will buzz.
  • Case 3: If the shoe scans up and detects that the obstacle is extremely tall (e.g. a lamppost or just a regular wall), it can be configured to either buzz both motors (“don’t run into that lamppost”) or, if the user gets too many false positives from this situation (which would occur any time you were standing next to a door, wall, or other person), this situation could just generate no warning at all.

In this way, the user can easily tell if the upcoming danger is an object in the way (situation 1) or a “falling” danger (situation 2).


Fig. 2: Here, the sensors in the shoe will scan ahead to look for dangerous obstacles (or a sudden drop-off in the path).


Fig. 3: In this scenario, the two detection units on the right side of the shoe (green, with check marks) do not detect any danger, but the two units on the left side of the shoe will alert the wearer to the open telecom panel.


Fig. 4: Physical comedy will be dealt a setback, as no one will ever again slip on a banana peel in this utopian shoe-with-detectors future.


Fig. 5: “Falling into a snake pit” will no longer be a concern of yours, thanks to this new footwear technology! Computer vision has advanced to the point where a snake pit (which constantly slithers and hisses) can easily be distinguished from a normal sidewalk (which does neither).

PROS: You won’t fall into a snake pit again.

CONS: False negatives could be exceptionally deadly (e.g. “I stepped onto a pane of fragile glass above a chasm because the shoe didn’t sense any danger”). Does not protect against falling pianos or anvils.

Never get a contagious disease from a coworker again with this one tip. Use the healing power of crystals and bears to naturally fight off disease. OSHA hates it!


Sometimes, your coworkers will come to work with obvious contagious diseases, coughing everywhere and spreading disease and pestilence throughout the land.


The best situation in this situation is for you or your boss to say “hey you, sick individual, go home!”

This should save time and money by preventing others from getting sick, but is sometimes not an option.

Instead, the following technical solution is proposed for office-related jobs: for diseases in which the afflicted individual needs to blow their nose (Fig. 1, left), they are likely to at some point access a tissue box placed somewhere in the workplace.

Instead of just letting that individual take a tissue and return to disease-spreading, the idea is to ensnare the sick individual with a (non-injurious / non-lethal) trap at that location (Fig. 1, right).


Fig. 1: Left: A standard tissue box. Useful for a person with a runny nose. Right: a possible type of tissue box trap: essentially a bear trap (but with rubber grips instead of bone-crushing steel jaws).


Fig. 2: Illustration of the closing process. This non-injurious “bear trap” modification will hold the sick individual until they can be humanely released back into the wild.


Fig. 4: A) tissue box. B) non-injurious padded rubber grips to hold onto the tissue-grabbing individual’s arm. C) support for the grabbing arms. D) to prevent the sick individual from just going back to their desk and working with a bear trap on one arm (and continuing to spread disease), the bear trap should be secured in place somehow.

PROS: Saves workplace productivity and reduces the spread of disease.

CONS: Won’t be effective in non-office jobs or for diseases where the plague-ridden individual doesn’t blow their nose.

Five underrated facts about dystopian totalitarian surveillance regimes! You’ll never believe fact #2!


The optimal tradeoff between privacy and security is a topic that is endlessly debated.

In the past, omnipresent surveillance was not feasible—but technology is now at the point where implementation of a 1984-esque surveillance state is actually possible.

On the one hand, it would be theoretically convenient to have immediate response to crimes and/or injuries, and perhaps take action to prevent some crimes before they even occur.

On the other hand, you might be sent to a faraway gulag because you opposed the interests of a politically-connected individual.


The problem here, of course, is the human element (see Figure 1).


Fig. 1: This guy (right) can monitor every aspect of your life on the video screens (left). This works fine until you become successful and he blackmails you!

But if an all-seeing computer system (like Skynet in the Terminator series) were in charge of things, we could could theoretically know that the surveillance system could not be misused, and would only be used for the programmed-in purposes (e.g., catching kidnappers and insane murderers).

Humans would write the rules for the system, but the raw data would (somehow) be inaccessible except to the analysis computer (Fig. 2).

Some example rules that might be applied:

  • If a car was used in a felony, check traffic cameras for its license plate number.
  • If a person has purchased explosive-manufacture-related chemicals, check their records for unusual activity and potentially flag them for further investigation by actual humans.
  • If a person declared no taxable income, but drives around in an 80,000 dollar car, check them for tax fraud.

Since these rules could be set by the legislature, they could be transparent and subject to review by the voters.

One downside: many countries operate on implicit rules like:

  • If a person supports an opposing political party, make sure to harass and imprison them.
  • If a person is a member of a disfavored ethnic or religious group, make sure to hold them to the strictest letter of the law.
  • Otherwise, don’t enforce any rules at all.

These informal enforcement rules might be less likely to survive if they had to be explicitly coded up and put on the official registry of surveillance rules. Or perhaps they would remain, and just be enforced with horrific robotic precision!


Fig 2: This robot is totally trustworthy with your personal data, and has no ulterior motives or desires of its own (unlike a human).


Fig 3: This unblinking “panopticon” eye will be a useful symbol to let you know you are in a safe and trustworthy robot-surveilled region! Stick one of these in your bedroom and bathroom to remind you that a robot is watching you at all times.


When you lobby for omnipresent surveillance, make sure to imagine the predicable scenario where some irrationally angry neighbor or ambitious business rival now has a recording of every stupid thing you (and your friends/family) have ever done!

PROS: Would probably reduce many types of crime.

CONS: Terminator and/or 1984.




Life hack: use a wedge of Gouda cheese as an eco-friendly doorstop to save space in your pantry. BIG DOORSTOP hates this tip!


Doorstops are pretty convenient for holding doors open.


Fig. 1: A doorstop. Or a wedge of cheese. OR PERHAPS BOTH??

The issue:

But sometimes, propping open a door is FORBIDDEN due to fire regulations—the door might need to be closed in order to slow the spread of fire (Fig. 2).

Although there exist magnetic doorstops that connect to the fire alarm, it’s very likely that the door that you want to prop open isn’t set up this way. Read on for the solution!


Fig. 2: Unfortunately, this door needs to be able to close in case of fire (left), so the doorstop at right is forbidden.


A new, futuristic type of electrical doorstop can be set up to automatically detect fire alarm conditions and get out of the way (allowing the door to close).

The primary idea is that the “collapsable fire-safe doorstop” has a microphone, and if it detects the sound of the fire alarm, it will instantly flatten down to a wafer-thin state, allowing the door to swing closed (Figures 3 and 4).



Fig. 3: The collapsable fire-safe doorstop. A) Microphone and optical sensor, for detecting a fire alarm. B1/B2) Hinged doorstop pieces. The red hinge between B1 and B2 will open in case of fire. C1/C2) Flat end caps for the doorstop. D1/D2) A hook mechanism that normally keeps the doorstop in a wedge shape. It will unhook in order to let the doorstop flatten itself.


Fig. 4: The doorstop detects a fire (top) and disengages the hooks that keep it in a triangular shape (middle), finally flattening out to allow the door to pass over it (bottom).

The doorstop would need to be battery powered, but it could presumably run for months or years on just a single watch battery. The closure mechanism (the gray hooks in the figure) could presumably also be set up to require a tiny amount of electrical power in order to stay connected. In this way, the doorstop could automatically flatten when the battery ran out, which would prevent a dead battery from being a fire hazard.


Fig. 5: Do not open a door with a fire on the other side unless it gives the correct password.

PROS: Allows you to prop open that one annoying hallway door that everyone is opening and closing constantly.

CONS: It’s yet another electronic gizmo that requires battery monitoring and replacement.

One Snake’s “Snakeccination” Plan to Eradicate Polio

The issue:

There are a few diseases that are making a comeback, despite the fact that vaccines exist for them. Polio is an especially dire example.

There are many reasons for this, some of which are:

1) In disease-free areas, these diseases are unknown and thus have no power to terrify.

2) In some remote areas, it is difficult to supply the vaccine.

However, these two issues can be easily solved with the proposal below.

The proposal:

Modify a variety of snake so that it injects a helpful vaccine instead of a deadly neurotoxin.


These snakes could be airdropped over regions that were experiencing disease epidemics, where they would gracefully glide to the ground and get to work vaccinating the population.

Alternate plan:

The spitting cobra is a promising candidate for modification; it could supply the vaccine by spitting it into the eyes, rather than requiring a painful fang-ing.

PROS: Eradicates diseases. Puts unemployed snakes to work. Generates good will in foreign countries that are appreciative of the “snakeccination” effort.

CONS: None! You should go and lobby for funding for this idea right now.