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Category: Technology

Errors-by-Mail: the new feature in computer operating systems! It supports the printer industry and makes it easier for you to keep track of any problems with your computer!

The issue:

When clicking “OK” on an error message on a computer or phone, it’s easy to instinctively dismiss the message and then later wonder what it said.

Unfortunately, the moment has passed, and there’s usually no way to read the message again!

This is especially true with phones, since an error message typically takes over the entire screen while it is displayed, making it impossible for a user to just put the error message into a corner and deal with it later (or never).

Proposal:

All logged errors on a computer could be sent to the user by physical mail (as in Figure 1), as follows:

  1. An error occurs on a system
  2. The system sends the error and the user’s postal address over the Internet to Errors-by-Mail, a hypothetical hip startup in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  3. Errors-by-Mail prints the error message and puts it in a regular envelope, then puts it in the mail.
  4. A few days later, the user has a hard copy of any error that occurred on their system. The user can then re-read this message at their leisure.

 

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Fig. 1: Here, a python error message has been helpfully mailed to the user. With this service, you would now have a record of any error messages that you encountered on your phone or computer.

PROS: Supports “Big Printer,” lets users easily keep a physical record of any problems with their computer or phone.

CONS: Postage could add up. But perhaps this is a positive feature, as it would encourage users to never do anything that might generate an error.

Stop impulsively using your cell phone, thanks to this one amazing deterrent that is also GUARANTEED to make you way smarter and well-educated! Guarantee void.

Background:

People are often glued to their cell phones at all times, thanks primarily to the ease of finding an amusing distraction on the Internet.

The issue:

There have been various proposals to mitigate the scourge of “phone addiction,” for example, setting your phone screen to black-and-white / grayscale in order to reduce its appeal (https://www.google.com/search?q=set+phone+to+black+and+white).

However, no proposal currently tackles the problem by making the phone-unlock process a mentally-taxing exercise.

Proposal:

In order to unlock your phone, you have to solve some sort of vaguely challenging puzzle, or perhaps learn a new fact about the world.

For example, to unlock your phone:

  • You must win or tie a game of Tic-Tac-Toe (Figure 1). Your AI opponent could just make moves randomly, so that it isn’t always a tie.
  • You must win a game of Go against the phone. This could take substantially longer than the Tic-Tac-Toe example; perhaps decades or more.

 

2a-game-unlock

Fig. 1: Perhaps you would need to win some sort of strategy game in order to unlock your phone. Other candidates include chess, checkers, and other popular board games. Since the computer will almost always be better than a player at these games, it could start with a handicap (e.g. no queen in chess).

An alternative approach would be to attempt to educate the phone user in some way (Figures 2 and 3).

 

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Fig. 2: High school or college students who are studying for standardized tests could replace their unlock screen with a practice test question. This phone’s owner will undoubtedly become very familiar with the format of the “analogies” section used in some standardized tests.

 

 

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Fig. 3: You’d definitely read a lot more classic literature if you HAD to in order to unlock your phone. Even War and Peace (shown here) would fly by in no time!

Alternative proposal that would help you maintain social connections:

Instead of requiring you to solve a puzzle, the phone could require you to send a message to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or call someone on their birthday. This synergizes well with the amazing not-yet-real app Friend Neglectr.

PROS: Combats phone addition AND enriches your life at the same time.

CONS: People would probably try to unlock their phones while driving, and having to read an entire chapter from “War and Peace” on a 5-inch screen would probably greatly increase the risk of a catastrophic car accident.

Finally, you can become an ant, thanks to the power of VIRTUAL REALITY.

Background:

Currently, there is no easy way to have the experience of becoming a tiny ant [*]. This is a shortcoming that could not be addressed—until now, thanks to modern VR technology!

[*] You could watch the 1989 film Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but that isn’t an interactive experience.

Proposal:

Thanks to virtual reality, you can become an ant in 3 steps:

  1. Get a VR headset.
  2. Create a small remote-controlled car with two cameras on the front.
  3. Set up the R.C. car cameras to transmit to the VR headset.

Figure 1 shows the result of these steps.

Now you can be an ant!

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Fig. 1: Left: someone wearing a VR headset that receives a pair of video signals from the remote-controlled car (orange) shown in the magnifying-glass inset (right)

 

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Fig. 2: The experience of the viewer in VR goggles is shown at right. This is definitely exactly what an ant looks like close-up, as anyone who has seen the “Planet Earth” series can confirm. That’s how you know that this image was drawn with extensive consultation of reference material.

Conclusion:

This “ant VR” system theoretically be used for other purposes as well; maybe the ant-sized drone could check for cracks in hard-to-access parts of bridges or buildings, or an aquatic version could swim through a city’s water system to allow maintenance personnel to both look for leaks AND ALSO pretend to be an eel at the same time. Finally!

PROS: Lets you feel kinship with your insectoid brethren, the ants.

CONS: After spending a while in VR, you might think you actually ARE an ant and become unable to participate in human society.

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Figure 3 (bonus): An extremely detailed technical schematic that will be used for manufacturing.

 

Stop getting run over by those passenger-transport golf carts in airport concourses with this one incredible tip, brought to you by the Big Laser Pointer industry.

Background:

Airport terminals often have small golf-cart-like trams that can be driven around in the passenger concourses. These are often used to help people move around the concourses (for example, one might be used to help a passenger with a leg in a cast who is trying to make it to a connecting flight).

The issue:

These passenger carts can move quickly, and may run over pedestrians in the terminal. To help prevent this, the carts usually emit an incredibly loud and annoying beep (like a truck backing up).

However, it is usually not very obvious where a cart is based only on the annoying beeping sound, especially in a crowded concourse (Figure 1).

 

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Fig. 1: The annoying beeping coming from this airport golf cart lets people know that a cart is nearby, but requires pedestrians to 1) find the cart and 2) figure out what path the cart is attempting to take through the airport crowds.

 

Proposal:

Instead of only beeping, the passenger cart could also have a special set of headlights that would project a “danger zone” image in front of them. This would make it extremely obvious as to where pedestrians should not walk.

 

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Fig. 2: This updated passenger cart has special headlights that project a “danger zone” region in the path of travel of the cart. These headlights could be repurposed laser pointers with a more spread out pattern (instead of a single dot).

Conclusion:

These new headlights could be an after-market attachment, since most airports will probably not want to replace their existing fleet of golf carts.

The light would only turn on when the shuttle is moving and would only consume as much energy as ~10 handheld laser pointers, so it shouldn’t substantially reduce cart battery life.

PROS: Would make it much easier to avoid being run over by an airport carts.

CONS: Probably… none? Is this a legitimately good idea?

 

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Fig. 3 (bonus): Illustration for a hypothetical patent application.

Improve print quality and generate an impressive high-contrast résumé with this amazing mirror-image two-sided printing plan.

Background:

When printing non-color text on paper, you generally want to print the text as dark as possible, for maximum contrast.

Proposal:

With this new “two-sided mirror printing” idea, text can be printed darker than is normally possible, with this one trick: the printer automatically prints a mirror image of your text on the opposite side of the page.

This mirror-image text contributes (very slightly) to darkening the overall text on the side that is intended to be read (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: This sheet of paper has a “2” printed on both sides (mirror-imaged on the back), but the other text is printed only on one side. Note that the 2 is slightly darker than the other text.

This process has been empirically tested: it actually does work, but is only really noticeable if you hold the paper up to a light. See Figures 2 and 3 for experimental evidence.

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Fig. 2: A piece of paper that has been printed with overlapping black rectangles on both sides: here, we see only one side (a normal view of the sheet of paper without any backlighting).

 

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Fig. 3: Here, the same piece of paper from Figure 2 was held in front of a light. The overlapping printed regions (center) are dramatically darker than the regions that were printed on one side only (left and right areas). The numbers indicated are the pixel values as measured in extremely unscientific fashion (0% would be the JPEG’s lowest black value, and 100% would be the JPEG’s brightest white value).

Conclusion:

Although this method uses twice as much ink (and potentially twice as much paper), it produces text that is subtly higher contrast under very specific lighting conditions.

The brightness measuring technique shown in Figure 3 is methodologically questionable; I don’t recommend plagiarizing it in your Methods section if you are attempting to publish a research paper.

PROS: Increases text contrast, helps support the struggling printer supply industry, which has been hit hard by the diabolical “Paperless Office.”

CONS: May increase unsustainable usage of natural resources, hastening the transformation of the Earth into a barren and windswept wasteland, devoid of all life and completely silent except for the sound of printers attempting to automatically clear a paper jam.

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.)
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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).

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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.

Easily win the Tour de France every year thanks to this bicycle secret: there’s no law that says you CAN’T enter the race with multiple people on a bike! [*]

[*] But you would be disqualified from the race.

Background:

Bicycle races have stagnated due to their archaic one-rider-per-bike format.

Proposal:

To usher in a new era of bicycle-based excitement add variety to bicycle races, an “entrant” to the race could be re-defined as a single bicycle, rather than a single person.

Then, participants would be able to use any style of bike (and number of riders) that they felt was suitable for a specific stage of the race. Figure 1 shows a couple of relatively conservative options.

Although this may sound like a radical change, it is based on sound historical precedent:

  1. Olympic rowing has a category for eight people in a boat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_(rowing)), so there is no reason that something similar couldn’t work for bicycling as well.
  2. There are existing tandem bicycles for six (or more) people: https://www.google.com/search?q=6+person+tandem+bike . You could order one today!
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Fig. 1: The tandem bike on the right has a similar rolling resistance and wind profile as the single-occupant bicycle, but double the power output from the riders.

It might turn out a “single-bike peloton” made up of a dozen or more riders would be the best race strategy.

Or perhaps the ideal bike would be able to pivot in the middle (like an accordion bus), with more than one steer-able wheel, as shown in Figure 2.

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Fig. 2: Top: a four-seater tandem bike. Bottom: An eight-person articulated bike that can bend around corners, which would help on especially winding roads.

Conclusion:

This is clearly the future of bicycle-related sports. You should lobby some extremely-corrupt sports regulatory organization and get this change implemented! (You will probably need a lot of money and/or incriminating evidence in order to succeed.)

PROS: Re-invigorates a hundred-plus-year-old sport.

CONS: Greatly increases the options for catastrophic bike collisions. May make passing nearly impossible.