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Category: Computers

Never forget your laptop at home (or at work!) again! The ultimate briefcase / laptop bag for the sophisticated and discerning professional!

Background:

At many companies, employees take a laptop to/from work every day.

In the past, laptops were heavy enough that it would be incredibly obvious whether a laptop was in a bag or not.

The issue:

Modern laptops are light enough that it is possible to take a laptop bag (Figure 1) to work without realizing that there is no laptop inside. This can be an annoying and time-consuming mistake.

1-laptop-bag.png

Fig. 1: The briefcase shown here could easily weigh 5 pounds without a laptop inside, so it may not be immediately obvious whether or not a one-pound laptop is present inside or not.

Proposal:

Proposed here is a laptop bag that makes it unavoidably obvious that there is no laptop inside. The model shown in Figure 2 pops up a spring-powered flag whenever a laptop is not present.

2-flag-system-laptop-bag.png

Fig. 2: The high-visibility “Pack your laptop!” reminder flag (A) at left protrudes from the bag when the laptop compartment is empty. A proposed mechanism is shown at right: the flag is attached to a “laptop cradle'” (B) that is supported by several springs (C). When the laptop is placed in the bag, its weight compresses the springs and pushes down the cradle-and-flag mechanism.

The flag-based approach described above makes it incredibly obvious if a laptop is not present. It also has the advantage of being easily overridden by a user who is intentionally not packing their laptop: they can simply press down on the flag while zipping the bag’s laptop compartment.

Rejected simpler Idea:

One could imagine a laptop bag with a transparent panel that would allow visual confirmation of the presence/absence of a laptop. Although this would work (and requires no moving parts), it would still be easy to grab the bag in a rush without realizing that the laptop was missing. Additionally, it has the disadvantage of advertising the presence of a (highly-stealable) laptop to fellow commuters.

Tactile alternative to the “flag” idea:

For a briefcase, the handle could change texture when the laptop is present. For example, dozens of metal spikes could protrude from the handle until a laptop weighed down the laptop cradle, at which point the spikes would retract into the handle, like they were part of some kind of Indiana-Jones-style ancient temple trap. (This could be all done mechanically, with no need for electronics, using cables that connected the handle to the laptop cradle.)

Conclusion:

You should crowdfund a laptop bag like this right now! If you are successful, it will prove that a market exists, and hundreds of much-cheaper knockoffs will flood the market before your initial prototypes are even done!

PROS: Never forget your laptop again!

CONS: Any object that is similar in shape to a notebook computer (e.g. an actual notebook) would cause false positives.

 

Stop getting hit by self-driving cars with this one fashion trick that involves putting weird labels on all your clothing! Don’t be the last one to catch on to this new fashion trend.

Background:

In a hypothetical future where self-driving cars are increasingly common, they’ll have to do a really good job of automatically distinguishing between things that require sudden braking (e.g. a person in the roadway) and things that are OK to hit (e.g. a tumbling empty cardboard box).

The issue:

This is a hard problem. When a car gets data from its various cameras (and other sensors), it needs to figure out what exactly it is that it is seeing (Figure 1).

1-self-driving-example.png

Fig. 1: This is probably a pedestrian in the roadway, but could it also be a billboard advertisement hundreds of feet away?

Although the specific “distant-billboard-or-close-pedestrian” question in Figure 1 can be answered just by using two cameras to estimate distance, there are situations where the problem must be resolved in a more complex fashion (Figure 2).

2-self-driving-problem.png

Fig. 2: Top: the image is interpreted correctly, and the car does NOT hit the pedestrian. Bottom: the car incorrectly believes that it sees a sunflower, and collides with it at full speed. Lest you think this is totally implausible, check out some specially-crafted adversarial examples (that can turn a panda into a banana) and a method of tricking lane-following algorithms into swerving the car into oncoming traffic.

Proposal:

We propose to place special “this is a human” symbols on articles of clothing that a human might wear (Figure 3).

When a car sees one of these unusual QR-code-like symbols, it will instantly say “ah, sunflowers do not wear specially-marked shoes, time to hit the brakes!”

To avoid this becoming a fashion disaster, these markings would not be apparently at normal human-visible wavelengths of light, but would only be detectable by special camera equipment.

Perhaps the markings could have fluorescent ink in them, and all cars could drive around with UV lights in the front.

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Fig. 3: Left: this is what the shoe looks like to a human—the markings are invisible to the naked eye. Middle: the camera can see wavelengths of light beyond human ability, and can detect these special markings (shown here as yellow checkerboards). Right: the camera sees the checkerboard, and the object-classification algorithm realizes that this shoe is likely to be attached to a human.

One common objection to many self-driving-car-related issues is “couldn’t some criminal put these markers all over the city, to trick self-driving cars?”

The answer is yes, but it would be as equally illegal as it currently is to put mannequins on a winding road (which would also confuse human drivers).

Conclusion:

This might be redundant with an infrared camera—in most locations, a human already is obviously distinguished from the background environment just by their warm-blooded glow in the infrared spectrum.

PROS: This will definitely make me a ton of money when it is licensed by major car manufacturers. Also, would someone please apply for and pay for a patent on my behalf? Thanks!

CONS: If one of these specially-marked shoes falls onto the roadway (perhaps by falling out of someone’s messenger bag while they’re biking), do we really want every car to come to a screeching halt at the sight of a single unattached shoe?

 

 

Save time AND the environment with this new gadget that encourages people to shut down their laptops more often. Finally, the product that the market has been clamoring for: the laptop remote-start key fob.

Background:

Some cars have a “remote start” feature to start a car before you actually get inside. This feature is typically used in regions with extremely cold  weather.

The issue:

Some people like to entirely turn off their laptops when traveling or over a weekend.

But then they have to wait a couple of minutes for their laptop to boot, log in, and start all their applications / open documents again.

Think of all the lost productivity!

Proposal:

Instead of losing precious time on Monday morning waiting for a shut-down-over-the-weekend laptop to boot, your laptop could have a special low-power “wake up” mode activated by a remote control. This would be exactly like a car remote-unlock key fob.

A comparison of laptops with and without this remote-start feature is shown in Figure 1.

1-laptop-remote-comparison.png

Fig. 1: Top: this old-fashioned laptop doesn’t have a remote-start feature, so someone is going to have to wait several seconds for it to boot. Bottom: thanks to the remote control, the laptop on the bottom is ready to go by the time its owner walks up to it.

Conclusion:

The laptop remote could be a new differentiator between brands in an otherwise commoditized market. When every other laptop is the same, surely consumers will flock to buy the one with the “remote start” option!

PROS: Saves valuable employee time. Additionally, probably several watt-hours per year per laptop, since it encourages people to shut down their laptops. The amount of energy saved probably offsets up to a whole day of increased energy usage due to global population growth.

CONS: It might take longer to locate this remote control than to just turn on the laptop by walking over to it.

Harness the toxic nature of the very worst Internet commentators to boost the ad revenue of your social media site / forum hosting site!

Background:

Online communities often have rivalries with one another, especially if the topics that they cover are extremely similar. For example, one could imagine a vicious feud between two different communities of saltwater aquarium enthusiasts.

Proposal:

Maybe we can harness and direct this mean-spiritedness in an interesting way that will, if nothing else, at least entertain outside observers like the gladiatorial matches of the Roman Empire.

To this end, the proposal is to encourage these communities to battle each other in a “survival of the fittest” environment with tangible consequences beyond just ruining a person’s day over the internet.

Details:

For the initial setup, each community on the web site (e.g. each subforum or “subreddit” in Reddit terminology) is allocated ample server resources, so the community can function normally (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: With existing forum software, these various topics could have their own subforums, and the subforums’ denizens are not required to directly interact with each other.

We can represent the total number of server resources as a continent (Figure 2), and the individual subforums as nations within that continent.

Then, each month, a certain percentage of server resources are considered to be “contested” war zones that communities can fight over (Figure 3).

If a subforum community has too few resources, the following negative consequences may occur:

  • Extremely slow page loads.
  • Images are artificially rate-limited to load slowly from top to bottom, to provide an “old modem” feel.
  • Images downsampled to highly-compressed JPEGs.
  • Images downsampled to 256 colors (or even lower).
  • Videos re-scaled to VHS quality.
  • Inability to register new subforum members.
  • Deletion of old / historical posts.

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Fig. 2: This is a map of a fictional continent, where “nations” (the various colors) represent the server resources applied toward each subforum. Larger territory indicates more server resources.


Since forum “combat” is highly metaphorical, there are a number of ways that it could be quantified and used to determine winning / losing subforums.

  • The number of long-running conversations in a subforum that can be successfully derailed and closed by infiltrating agents of an “enemy” subforum. Example: if a forum thread about remote-control helicopters can be transformed into a vitriolic argument about the nature of capitalism, it will count as a “win” for the infiltrating agents if that thread is closed by moderators for being off-topic / overly-toxic.
  • The number of successful emotional reactions that can be baited out of one subforum by trolls from another subforum. This could be indicated by either automated “word sentiment analysis” or by counting the number of instances of posts that are flagged for inappropriate content.
  • The number of irrelevant / off-topic meme images that can be placed in an “enemy” subforum, derailing any productive conversation.

 

3-map-war-zones

Fig. 3: Every so often, certain server resources are available for the communities to fight over. The winning subforum can thus seize territory (resources) from the loser.

Conclusion:

This is a great way to increase user loyalty and cause users to become more emotionally invested in your social media site or forum hosting site.

PROS: Increases user engagement and (potentially) ad revenue.

CONS: Increases man’s inhumanity to man.

Replace your windows with television screens: save thousands of dollars of rent a year by VIRTUALLY moving your home or office to an expensive location, without paying any more rent!

Background:

People generally enjoy having a good view from their home or office windows.

However, some locations have a bad view (e.g. a dark alley or cement wall) or cannot accommodate windows at all (e.g. interior offices or basements).

Proposal:

Modern flatscreen displays can be as large as office windows (and some types consume very little electricity).

Thus, we can replace the nonexistent and/or bad windows with large-screen television monitors.

In order to provide a convincing view of the “outdoors” on these screens, we only need two things:

  1. The time of day, so the screens can show a proper day or night scene.
  2. The relative orientations of each screen (e.g., if one screen faces the sea, then a screen on the opposite wall could show a beach).

The scenes could be either real-world video (either live webcam video, or looped video from earlier), or computer-generated scenes. See Figure 1 for an example.

2-SF-scene_SMALLER_FILE.jpg

Fig. 1: Instead of renting an expensive office in a city like New York or San Francisco (shown here), you could simply set the windows of your company to show scenes from that location. Think of the savings!

One additional benefit of virtual screens is that there is no requirement that the screens face out onto a practical (or even real) location (Figure 2).

For example, one could place an office:

  • On the surface of the Moon
  • Orbiting a distant science fiction planet or space station
  • Under the sea
  • In a windswept desert of endless sand dunes
  • Inside an M.C. Escher print, modeled in 3D (this might be extremely confusing)
  • Inside a video game (one could imagine a game development company setting their office windows to show scenes from the under-development game, in order to further oppress and crush the spirit of their programmers with the inescapability of the game)

Computer-generated locations could also feature 3D animations, like a buggy driving around the Moon’s surface or caravans crossing the desert.

 

1-abstract-multi-screen-scene

Fig. 2: There is no requirement that the virtual windows in your multi-screen room must face out onto a real-world scene. You could also imagine that your home or office was inside a giant abstract painting, as shown in this example.

Conclusion:

This project requires only consumer-level hardware and a web site to implement, so I am actually surprised that it appears not to currently exist. You can make an ad-hoc version by using a maps site with Street View (e.g. Google Street View) and adjusting the orientation of your multiple displays accordingly. (The only downside to this method is that the image will not update to match the current time of day).

PROS: Allows you to cheaply obtain a beautiful view for your home or office without paying exorbitant rental prices.

CONS: Large displays can cost up to $200 a year (2019 prices) to operate 24 hours a day, and the entire idea is essentially a huge waste of energy (unless you can use the extra heat generated by the screens).

When giving a slide presentation, show DIFFERENT slide decks to different groups in the audience! Never confuse your audience with an overly-technical presentation again. An amazing application of the same technology used in red-green-glasses-based 3D movies.

Background:

When giving a presentation to a diverse audience (e.g. of experts and non-experts, or of employees from two different departments in a company), you have a problem: you can only make one set of slides, but sometimes you might want to tailor different parts of the presentation to a different audience.

For example, one might want to give a presentation at an easily-understood overview level while also providing technical details for any domain experts in attendance.

Proposal:

Nearly all projectors and screens consist of three light-generating elements, in red (1), green (2), and blue (3).

By giving some members of the audience a pair of green-lens glasses (which block all red and blue light), we would be able to hide certain elements of the presentation that were not relevant to the green-glasses wearers. We can use a set of red-lens glasses and blue-lens glasses in the same way (see Figure 1).

With this technique, we can show up to three entirely different slide presentations, with the only limitation being that each presentation must consist of only monochromatic images.

Specifics:

  • Red glasses can see the following colors:  red, yellow, magenta, white [*].
  • Green glasses can see the following colors: green, yellow, cyan, white.
  • Blue glasses can see the following four colors: blue, magenta, cyan, white.

[*] Note that this is “additive” color space (where red + green = yellow), not the “subtractive” color space one might be familiar with from mixing paints.

Fig_1 3d_glasses_modified

Fig. 1: These glasses block certain wavelengths of light. By carefully constructing our slide decks, we can use these glasses to give up to three different presentations to the same audience at the same time.

So a slide that should be visible to everyone in the audience should be white (or shades of gray). Whereas if you only wanted to present to the red & green glasses-wearers (but not the blue ones), that text would be yellow. See Figure 2 for an example.

Fig_2_financial_results_all

Fig. 2: A sample presentation that is meant to provide both “optimistic” conclusions (green glasses) and “realistic” conclusions (red glasses). This is what the presentation looks like with no color-filtering glasses on.

 

Fig_3_red_normal

Fig. 3: The presentation from Figure 2 in “pessimistic / realistic” mode, as viewed through red lenses. All of the green text has disappeared!

 

Fig_4_green_optimistic

Fig. 4: The presentation from Figure 2 in “optimistic” mode, viewed through green lenses. Red text has disappeared.

 

Fig_5_what_it_looks_like_simulation

Fig. 5: Real-world demonstration: a color-enhanced version of what a red-blue version of this presentation looks like through red-blue “3D” glasses. The effect is almost 100% convincing for the human eye, but the camera actually manages to pick up a lot of the non-lens color, so this photo has been edited to more accurately reflect the perceived image.

A superior (but more logistically difficult) implementation:

It would also be possible to implement this same system with polarized glasses (as were used for some 3D TVs in the early-to-mid 2010s).

This would have the advantage of providing full color, but the disadvantage of not being compatible with a standard conference room projector. Additionally, you would be limited to two different presentations, rather than 3.

PROS: Improves your presentations by letting you tailor the presentation slides to multiple categories of audience members.

CONS: Greatly increases the amount of time required to make a presentation!

Improve your web site’s comment section by only allowing unique comments! Now every meme image will need to be one pixel different in order to be reposted. The Internet is saved!

Background:

Moderating the comments section of any web site is a thankless and un-ending task. But what if there were some way to make it slightly easier?

Proposal:

Instead of just allowing any comments, we can require that comments be totally unique and never-before-seen.

Once a comment is made, or an image is posted, a “fingerprint” [1] of that data is saved, and that exact comment can never be posted again (UI implementation shown in Figure 1).

[1] For example, an MD5 sum.

This will automatically get rid of many types of classic low-signal posts (e.g. the historical but rarely-seen-noawadays “First post”) and reposted memes. (This may or may not be desirable, depending on the type of site being run, of course.)

 

internet-message-board-only-unique-comments

Fig. 1: If a user posts some text (or an image) that was seen before, they will get an error message similar to this one.

Observation about images:

Since images must be unique to be reposted, the easiest way to re-post a meme image would be to make a small change to it and re-save it (or make no change at all, but re-save it using a lossy compression method). For a lossy image format like JPEG, this would lead to an interesting situation in which memes became more and more corrupted-looking as they are modified and re-posted over and over. This would even allow the lineage of a meme to be traced by looking at its variously-compressed versions.

PROS: May discourage certain low-effort posts that you’d want to moderate away anyway, saving moderator time and improving web site quality.

CONS: If a 32-digit hexadecimal number is used as the output of the “fingerprinting” hash function, then only a maximum of 16**32 comments can ever be made to your web site. If your web site gets 1 million unique posts per year, then some time in the year 340,282,366,920,938,448,064,954,991,902,720 A.D., all of the hash values will be used up, and people will no longer be able to post on your web site. Also, your visitor counter will probably have overflowed by then!