Never wonder who is—and isn’t—in a large group video chat again, thanks to the “reserved seating” video meeting system!

Background:

Occasionally, a video meeting will be scheduled with a large number of participants.

The Issue:

Since the participants are usually only arranged based on who is actually present in a meeting, it can be hard to figure out exactly who has (and hasn’t) shown up, especially if the meeting has 10+ participants.

For example, in Figure 1, a meeting has started, but the presenter is trying to remember if important participants are still missing. Should the presentation start? Who knows!


Fig. 1: In this normal video meeting, we can unfortunately only see the video chat boxes of the people who are actually present already (at left). So the presenter may wonder—was Joe from Accounting supposed to be on this meeting? Should we wait for anyone else before starting the meeting? The organizer will have to poke around in a calendar to see who is supposed to be in this meeting.

Proposal:

The solution is simple: when a person has accepted a meeting, they are allocated a “reserved spot” in the video chat grid. Then, as soon as the meeting starts, their spot displays a “So-and-so has not yet joined the meeting” indicator (Figure 2).

Once the user joins the meeting, their video is displayed in this reserved spot.

Fig. 2: No need to wonder who has joined the meeting yet—we can see right here in the participants list that three people are still missing. Now to shame them relentlessly for their tardiness! That will foster a healthy work culture for sure.

Conclusion:

This might be a legitimately useful feature! No more wondering if stragglers will stumble into a meeting late, or having to consult a long possibly-alphabetical guest list to see if a person is present or not (since their “THIS PERSON IS MISSING” spot in the video chat grid will make it extremely obvious).

PROS: Helps the person running the meeting know whether or not they should start it.

CONS: Makes it harder for someone to slip out of a meeting unnoticed.

Drink in moderation thanks to this slowly-shrinking wine glass!

The Issue:

Some people would like to drink less, but they have a hard time sticking to a small number of drinks. If only there were some sort of overcomplicated technical solution to this problem!

Proposal:

This “shrinking wine glass” (Figure 1) could be a solution to excessive drinking. Such a glass consists of two components: a normal wine glass base and a snugly-fit cylindrical top (cup) portion that can slide up and down the base.

Over time, the cylinder slowly slides down, reducing the maximum capacity of the glass.

Fig. 1: This cylindrical “cup” portion of the wine glass slowly slides down the glass, moving from configuration A (“normal capacity”) to configuration B (“almost no capacity”).

Conclusion:

The exact mechanism by which this functions has not been totally worked out, but it’s obviously the case that it would need to be non-trivial for the user to “reset” the glass.

The same general approach (in a slightly different form factor) should also work for beer.

PROS: Could probably actually be implemented with relatively little random wine leakage.

CONS: The real deal-breaker here might be discouraging the user from just getting another glass.

Bring more excitement and closer games to basketball with player height–normalized basketball goals!

Background:

Basketball goals normally have a defined height that is the same for both teams. Generally speaking, a taller player (unsurprisingly) is at an advantage in getting a ball into the hoop.

The Issue:

As a result of this, basketball teams usually consist of exceptionally tall members of the population. However, it may be valuable [citation needed] to “democratize” professional basketball to all talented players.

Proposal:

Here, we propose to adjust the heights of each team’s target goal so that the taller team must also attempt to score at the taller goal. In Figure 1, we see an example of two teams with players of varying heights.

Fig. 1: Players on Team A are close in height: the tallest is height HA. Team B has one exceptionally tall player of height HB.

In order to remove the height advantage from the tallest player on Team B, we will increase the height of the goal that Team B must score in, as shown in Figure 2.

Fig. 2: The standard goal height (C) is increased by the height difference between the teams. In this situation, if Team B’s tallest player is 7 feet tall and Team A’s tallest player is 6 feet tall, then Team A’s goal would be exactly 1 foot taller (7ft – 6ft  1ft). Note that the shorter team gets the taller home goal.

Above, we defined the height difference as being the difference between the tallest players only, but average height (or some other metric) could also be used.

Overcomplicated Bonus Option:

It would also be possible to move the goals up and down dynamically (Figure 3) as possession changes—in other words, the goal would always be N feet taller than whoever currently has the ball.

Fig. 3: Maybe the goals could even automatically move up and down based on who CURRENTLY has possession of the ball, to level the playing field for everyone. This could result in additional excitement as powerful hydraulic-operated machinery is quickly raised and lowered (in the vicinity of players’ heads), as shown in this exceptionally realistic and detailed patent drawing.

PROS: Brings a new pool of players to professional basketball.

CONS: None whatsoever, everyone would definitely be in favor of it!

Don’t waste time unsubscribing from newsletters and “special deals” on web sites—indicate that certain emails should be marked as spam right when you sign up for them!

Background:

Many web sites request a user’s email address: “Sign up for our newsletter!”, “Read an article for free!”, “Thanks for buying our product: here are some discounts!”

Unfortunately, users who provide a valid email address are often relentlessly spammed later. Additionally, access to the email account might be required later, so it can be impractical to use a fake / temporary address.

Proposal:

Instead, email sign-up forms should be more courteous: they should include, along with the “Sign me up for your email list!” checkbox, a second checkbox that presents the option to automatically mark the signed-up-for messages as junk mail (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: The “instantly mark these emails as spam” checkbox (indicated by the yellow arrow in the figure above) greatly increases web site user-friendliness.

Conclusion:

Previously, a user needed to perform three steps when signing up for a service: 1) sign up, 2) check email, 3) unsubscribe or mark the message as spam. This checkbox entirely removes steps 2 and 3!

This may actually be of legitimate interest to some web sites: apparently, if enough users flag a message from a certain senders as spam, certain large email providers will mark that sender’s entire domain (e.g.“example.com”) as spam. No one wants that to befall their company!

PROS: Saves thousands of hours of spam-flagging work every year. Additionally, any web site that implements this feature sends the signal of being a trustworthy operator (assuming the checkbox actually works), which should help increase consumer confidence in the brand.

CONS: Some hapless individual who is in charge of the distribution of marketing emails will probably have a hard time justifying the sudden reduction in new user subscriptions.

Don’t let “Big Staircase” trick you into falling down a flight of stairs again, thanks to this new textured floor pattern that makes the top/bottom steps obvious!

Background:

Staircases are surprisingly perilous. Most people have, at some point, attempted to step up onto a “phantom” additional top step or been surprised to encounter the ground floor a step early (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: When walking on the staircase (blue), it’s possible to lose track of where the steps actually end. This is especially easy to do when carrying an object that obscures one’s vision of the floor.

Some commercial buildings indicate the very top and bottom of a flight of stairs with a raised pattern. However, this is 1) not reliable and 2) rare in residential dwellings.

Proposal:

In order to intuitivelyinform the staircase user which step they are on, a few topmost and bottommost steps can be marked with standardized raised markings that can be easily felt while walking (Figure 2).


Fig. 2: Possible step patterns: the top step is marked with a raised “” pattern, the second next step with “𑁔”, and the third step with a “≈” . Now a person will intuitively “feel” when they are nearing the end of a staircase.

Fig. 3: Left: A real-world example of a confusing carpeted stairway, where the texture seems to have been specifically selected to be as confusing as possible. Right: a proposed visual color-coding element to distinguish specific stairs, as follows: Striped blue: bottom landing. Green: bottom stair. Red: top stair. Striped orange: top landing.

Conclusion:

This could probably actually work! Standardization might be difficult, however, and it’s not immediately clear what the best solution would be for a small staircase with only a couple of steps.

PROS: Adds the possibility for new and exciting onerous regulations for property owners! Adds more work for OSHA inspectors to do.

CONS: People who expect these textures might then fall down regular unmarked stairs (“well I can’t be on the bottom step, I haven’t felt the textured pattern yet”).

World records for sports are INACCURATE, as they are not adjusted for the gravitational pull of celestial bodies! Adjust marathon running times for astronomical phenomena for a truly accurate value.

Background:

Most sporting events (and non-sporting events) are affected by the pull of gravity. However, the pull of gravity can actually vary a tiny bit due to both 1) location on Earth and 2) the positions of various nearby planets, moons, and stars*.

[*] Usually just one star.

The Issue:

Currently, no sport adjusts world records for differences in gravitational pull!

Fortunately, this is easy to fix. Unlike more immediately obvious sources of advantage (e.g. wind, air temperature, weather conditions), the position of celestial bodies is easily determined and not subject to dispute. 

Additionally, since it affects all participants equally (since they are in close geographical proximity), normalizing for remote gravitational effects won’t affect who wins a specific competition—all competitors will get the same “gravitational factor” adjustment.

Proposal:

For sports that are heavily affected by the influence of gravity, we can normalize the distances / times by gravitational pull (Figure 1).

The most obviously-affected sports involve jumping (e.g. high jump, long jump, pole vault) or thrown objects (e.g. discus toss, javelin throw, shot put). In these events, less gravity means more distance/height.


Fig. 1: The competitor in a long jump (red) is primarily attempting to counteract the gravitational pull of the Earth (blue: 🜨g), but other astronomical objects also make minor contributions.

Case Study:

Let’s consider the simplified case in which we tally up the gravitational effects of some of the main offenders: specifically, the Earth, Sun, Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn (Mercury, Venus, and Mars don’t make the cut: sorry).

For non-planetary-scale objects, we can implement Wikipedia’s gravitational attraction formula as a function called “calc_accel” (calculate acceleration due to gravity), as follows:

G = 6.674e-11 # Universal Gravitational Constant (units: m³/(kg*s²)

calc_accel = function(mass_kg, dist_m) {G * mass_kg / (dist_m**2) }

(This code is in the “R” programming language.)

Let’s plug in Wikipedia’s mass and distance numbers, hopefully without making any mistakes:

sun     = calc_accel(mass_kg=1.989e30, dist_m=1.47e11)  # 0.0061430820

jupiter = calc_accel(mass_kg=1.898e27, dist_m=9.68e11)  # 0.0000001352

saturn  = calc_accel(mass_kg=5.683e26, dist_m=1.7e12)   # 0.0000000131

earth   = calc_accel(mass_kg=5.9722e24, dist_m=6371000) # 9.8198608850

moon    = calc_accel(mass_kg=7.348e22, dist_m=3.63e8)   # 0.0000372171

(Note the callous disregard for proper significant figures. Also note that only the sun is really doing any work—“pulling its own weight,” if you will.) See simplified force diagram in Figure 2.


Fig. 2: This athlete (red) is experiencing three primary gravitational forces.

It seems like the worst situation for an athlete would be when all the planets are pulling them in the same direction as the Earth (Figure 3), so initially we might think:

maybe_worst = (earth + moon + sun + jupiter + saturn) # ➜ 9.82604 m/s²

And the best configuration would be if everything is pulling the athlete away from the Earth:

maybe_best = (earth - moon - sun - jupiter - saturn) # ➜  9.81368 m/s²

That’s actually a big difference! Does that mean that it’s (9.81368/9.82604), or 99.8742% as much work to lift something on the worst day than the best day?


Fig. 3: If we neglect the fact that the Earth is orbiting the sun, we’d be able to combine all the forces in A (left) to generates a single “opposing Earth’s gravity” force in B (right).

Unfortunately, probably not: I didn’t consider that the Earth is in orbit around the Sun, so we probably shouldn’t count the Sun there. (After all, someone in Earth orbit can float around in “zero G” even though they’re experiencing ~90% of Earth’s gravity).

Fixed (?) Version:

Excluding the Sun from those calculations gives:

worst = (earth + moon + jupiter + saturn) # ➜ 9.819898 m/s²

best  = (earth - moon - jupiter - saturn) # ➜ 9.819824 m/s²

# (best / worst) is 0.9999924

So if it’s 99.99924% as much work to lift something on the best day vs. the worst day, maybe that could add up over the course of a marathon. Let’s assume, without doing any research at all, that half of a runner’s effort is counteracting gravity and half is overcoming air resistance.

Then, for the gravity half, we end up with (1-9.819824/9.819898)/2 effort that can be saved, or 0.000003767859911 per 1 unit of running.

For a 2-hour marathon, a run would be this much longer during the worst configuration of planets:

(0.000003767859911 * 120 minutes) = 0.0271 seconds

About 3 hundredths of a second! Maybe not totally worth adjusting for, sadly.

Conclusion:

Maybe we’d be better off in the future by normalizing for:

PROS: Opens the door for exciting new ways of nit-picking world records in sports.

CONS: Sadly, it appears to be a negligible effect. 

Take care of chores WHILE you commute, thanks to this new “chore rideshare/taxi” fusion. It’s the ultimate time-saver for busy professionals!

The Issue:

Commuters often spend an hour or more in traffic every day. There are many chores in life that would be nice to handle in this hour, but it’s hard to (say) visit an optometrist while you’re in a car.

Proposal:

Until now, that is! This proposal is so simple, you’ll wonder why it isn’t a major form of transportation already.

We simply add a new option to the rideshare / taxi apps. Currently, it is possible to request a type of car (e.g., regular, SUV, limousine). But what if you could also request a professional service to be provided (Figure 1)?

For example, a car might be converted into a mobile psychiatry office: then the commuter would be able to lie back on a stereotypical therapist’s couch while also commuting to work. What a time-saver!

Dating apps could also take advantage of this system: a vehicle could be half-converted into a fancy restaurant suitable for impressing a dinner date. For dates, this system has two benefits: 1) people who meet this way will probably live relatively close by (since they’re sharing a commute route) and 2) even a bad date isn’t a total waste, since both parties are still accomplishing their commute!


Fig. 1: This “chore multitasking” rideshare vehicle could offer commuters a variety of services, which would be installed into the “Multi-Purpose Customer Zone” (gray dotted line area) in the back of the car. In example A) a driver (who is also a licensed psychiatrist) has installed a stereotypical psychotherapy sofa. In B) the car has been converted into a trendy coffeeshop, suitable for friendly meetings, coffee dates, job interviews, and more!

Many other services are also possible, such as:

  • Professional Tax Filing Assistance
  • On-the-road Dentistry
  • Laser Eye Surgery (paved roads only)
  • Legal Advice
  • Marriage Officiation (even faster than a “drive-thru wedding”)

Conclusion:

This idea also works for mass transit (subways, trains, etc.). For example, just as a bus might be an “express” bus, it could also be a “dental clinic” bus.

PROS: Adds more multitasking opportunities and the ability for taxi drivers to supplement their income by “up-selling” riders on more lucrative professional services.

CONS: In a car accident, the laser-eye surgery example has some headline-grabbing failure possibilities.

A trick for travelers: pre-train the immune system with this dubious unfiltered water idea that might result in you getting a weird tropical disease!

Background:

When people travel long distances, it’s not uncommon for them to get some kind of illness upon arriving. But it seems like the locals are rarely sick at the same frequency. Why is that?

Beats me! But maybe it’s because the immune systems of the local residents are already “tuned” for local conditions. Let’s go with that!

Proposal:

Before traveling to a certain area, perhaps a person could order a bunch of barely-processed or even entirely unfiltered water from a certain area (Figure 1). Then, if the theory in the “background” section is correct, by drinking it, they should 1) possibly get sick and 2) be less likely to get sick upon actually arriving at their new travel location.

Fig. 1: Various assortments of unfiltered water from all around the world. Drink up!

Conclusion:

There’s probably substantial actual medical research that’s been done on this topic, but reading that and presenting an actually-informed proposal would be antithetical to the Worst Plans mission.

PROS: It’s a tradeoff: possibly be sick now instead of later. Possibly worthwhile for short trips?

CONS: It is possible that it would be better for a traveler to just avoid the local water (and uncooked food) entirely. Also, this proposal might not even work, in which case a person would just get some exotic water-borne disease for no benefit whatsoever!

No more procrastination—get motivated to read even the most boring textbook with this publication technique that mixes a textbook with lurid page-turning fiction!

The Issue:

It can be difficult to get motivated to read a textbook or dry historical tome. It’s much easier to read an action-filled story that features murder and intrigue!

Proposal:

In order to motivate a person to read a boring textbook, we will create a new kind of “hybrid” book: instead of printing a separate textbook and page-turning thriller, we will print a single book in which odd pages are from a compelling murder mystery and even pages are from a textbook (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: This hybrid textbook is printed with alternating pages from two sources: a gripping page-turner and a boring-but-educational textbook. A reader who wants to solve the MURDERS OF SKELETON BAY will also need to flip through the “introduction to electromagnetism” pages.

Conclusion:

Often, the hardest part of doing a task is just starting it. By making it more appealing to pick up the book in the first place, we increase the chances that the reader will ALSO slog through the pages of the associated textbook.

PROS: Reduces procrastination by making it more appealing to start reading an uncompelling book.

CONS: Some editing might be required: if we suppose that it takes the same amount of time to understand one textbook page as thirty mystery novel pages, we would probably need to reduce the amount of material on each textbook page to 1/30th of its previous amount. Or make the murder mystery prose 30 times more dense and incomprehensible.

This clownfish-inspired security system will “anemonize” your home, creating the ultimate burglar deterrent!

Background:

A type of fish called the clownfish can live within the stinging tentacles of an anemone (Figure 1). Thanks to an ancient non-aggression pact, the tentacles don’t sting the clownfish. However, they do sting other animals! This is perhaps nature’s first multi-species automated home security system.

Fig. 1: The clownfish is content to hang out within the stinging tentacles of the anemone.

Proposal:

This all-natural system can be adapted to protect human habitats as well! We simply attach stinging vines to all surfaces in a house: floors, ceilings, handrails, walls, furniture, doorknobs, and more. Internally, the anemon-ized home would resemble a kelp forest (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: This “anemonized” sofa provides both fashion and home security.

Next, the homeowner takes a dietary supplement that causes them to sweat a thick layer of protective slime. Thus protected, the homeowner can interact with their home as before—but any intruders will be deterred by the stinging “immune system” of the house.

In addition to its burglar-deterring properties, this system can also allow the homeowner to escape from guests who have overstayed their welcome: e.g. “Oh, let’s move this dinner party in the living room, it’s much more comfortable” (the host then sinks into a sofa composed of waving anemone arms).

PROS: Doesn’t require a homeowner to remember to set an alarm when the leave the house.

CONS: Might ensnare emergency first responders (like the fire department): this could run afoul of anti-booby-trap laws.