Programmers, rejoice! Date and time formatting will be greatly simplified with this one weird alphabetical trick borrowed from ancient Mycenaean Greece!

Background:

When specifying a time, some positions may have either one or two digits (e.g. “1 PM” vs “11 PM”), but other positions always have a leading zero, no matter what (e.g. “1:01” and “1:11” both have three digits).

Proposal:

The inconsistency in digits is unnecessary and leads to weird sorting behavior. For example, if we sort the times from 11 AM to 2 PM alphabetically, we end up with this: “1 PM, 11 AM, 12 PM, 2 PM.” Outrageous!

Let’s fix it by using new symbols to give a unique single-character glyph to 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, an 12 o’clock. If we use existing keyboard characters like “A,” “U,” and “=,” we retain both the ability to easily type these characters, and they will sort in ascending “alphabetical” order (the ASCII default sort order is numbers → letters → symbols), and they can be represented in a traditional 7-segment LED display (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: We chose “A,” “U,” and “=“ to represent “10,” “11,” and “12,” because these symbols can be displayed in a traditional 7-segment LED display, as shown in green above.

If we want to get really comprehensive in fixing date representations, we might want to also replace every day of the month with its own symbol. Figure 2 proposes using the long-defunct Linear B script, which has no living defenders and is thus vulnerable to our repurposing.

Fig. 2: There turn out to be approximately 200 of these Linear B symbols, so we can pick and choose our favorites. If we select them based on how computers already sort these (if there even is a default already), then they’ll even sort properly with no additional work! These glyphs are already in Unicode, so no additional work is there, either.

So in the end, we’ll have a comprehensive time-and-date rework where months, days, and hours can always be represented by a single digit (Figure 3). This will replace the current unpredictable mix of 2-digit and 1-digit values.

Fig. 3: In this example, we’re using the Linear B symbols to represent 24-hour time as well (so we don’t need AM / PM anymore, either). Look how concise the updated times and dates are!

Conclusion:

This should save ink and make life easier for programmers, who can now always rely on times fitting into the format YYYY–M–D H:MM:SS (at least for years between 9999 B.C. and 9999 A.D.).

PROS: Should make alarm clocks cheaper to manufacture, since they’ll only need three digits for HOUR:MINUTES rather than four.

CONS: The Linear B symbols aren’t supported by most fonts. Sometimes, they’ll be replaced by a “missing character” symbol, so we might end up with things like “The graduation is on /9!” or “Please report for your court appearance on /!”

Extraplanetary calendars: “12 months per year” is an Earth-specific concept that will need adjustment in the space-age future!

Background:

By the year 2000, visionary futurists have estimated that over half the human population will live off-world, on another planet or in an orbital space colony.

The Issue:

Unfortunately, other planets generally have inconveniently not-matching-Earth orbital periods and day lengths. Thus, the calendar months will need to be adjusted in order for our intrepid miners on Mars know when to celebrate The Fourth of July or Cinco de Mayo (and possibly other month-and-day-specific holidays).

Proposal:

Various planets will require various adjustments to their calendars.

Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Earth: this is the most popular planet for humans. Day length: 1 day. Year length: 1 year. The year is divided into 12 months of ~30 days (Figure 1).
Fig. 1: Earth has a bunch of messed-up month names in English, like “October” (“The Eighth Month”) for the 10th month, but we’ve learned to deal with it.
  • Mercury: this is a weird one—the day length is longer than the orbital period. That means that the calendar only needs one “month” with a single day on it! Very economical. Downsides: your “word a day” calendar will actually only have one entry on it, so knowledge of esoteric vocabulary on this planet may be extremely limited.
  • Venus: this is another surprising one—apparently it spins around in 243 Earth days, but orbits the sun in 224 Earth days, so once again, we only need a single one-day month. Fortunately, we can just re-use the Mercury calendar here—this should save on logistics, since the Mercury / Venus calendar can be printed in a single batch (Figure 2) before being shipped by rocket to both planets.
Fig. 2: The entire calendar is just a single day. Very convenient!
  • Mars: this is the first situation where we’ll have to add months. A very reasonable 24 months (of 30-Mars-days-per-month) cover the whole orbit, so we’ll only need 12 new month names (Figure 3).
Fig. 3: We’ll need to come up with some new month names for Mars. Historically, some months were renamed to honor political figures—e.g. Julius Caesar (“July”) and Augustus Casear (“August”)—so perhaps this tradition will be continued by future Mars colonists who will, perhaps, name their months after Arnold Schwarzenegger (e.g. “Schwarzeneggtober”) and Clint Eastwood.

Unfortunately, the more distant planets have more inconvenient calendar requirements. Let’s look at Neptune as a representative outer planet:

  • Neptune: with 16 Earth hours per day and 165 Earth years per orbit, we’ll end up with 86,999 Neptune days per Neptune year. Thus, we’ll need 2900 months (86,999 / 30), as shown in Figure 4.
Fig. 4: Neptune’s calendar, with 2900 months, will (at one page per month) be more than twice as thick as the original publication of War and Peace. Citizens of Neptune will be unlikely to have much affinity for Fourth of July fireworks, since this date will only occur at most once in a single century.

Conclusion:

When moving to another planet, it’s important to consider the calendar situation. Finally, this has been addressed!

PROS: Practical consideration of planetary month names may jumpstart space exploration, leading to the idyllic rockets-and-robots future promised by 1960s pulp science fiction paperback book covers.

CONS: This dreadful calendar situation may discourage space exploration: planetary explorers will have to give up not only their friends and family, but also any hope of ever seeing more than one additional New Year’s, May Day, Cinco de Mayo, or Fourth of July.

Repurpose that outdoor swimming pool as a trampoline during the winter! Get exercise and make more efficient use of yard space.

The Issue:

In some climates, outdoor swimming pools (Fig. 1) are kept filled with water year-round, but are covered during the colder months. These covered-up pools waste a lot of outdoor real-estate that could be put to alternative use.

Fig. 1: In the summer, this swimming pool is great. But when it’s covered up for the winter, it takes up a lot of space while providing no value!

Proposal:

The pool will need to be covered anyway, so we can take advantage of this space by creating a pool cover that also serves some secondary function.

Several possible options come to mind:

  • Mini-golf course
  • Mini ice-hockey rink (cold climates only)
  • Trampoline

The “trampoline pool cover” (Fig. 2) could be the best option, since trampolining is a great way to warm up during cold winter months, and additionally supports medical professionals (by generating exotic injuries for the emergency room) and teaches children about the fragility of life.

Fig. 2: The trampoline (blue) and its frame (black) are part of this newly-improved pool cover (red). Note that the trampoline frame is supported by solid ground (unless it moves slightly, in which case it will catastrophically tumble into the pool).

It might seem difficult to support a mini-golf course or ice hockey rink on flimy pool cover, but this might actually be feasible. Since water is—counterintuitively—not substantially compressible, we could fill the pool completely to the brim and then rely on the water as a “solid” support. (We’d probably also need to plug up any inlets and drains, so a downside of this method is that water can’t be circulated while the pool is providing structural support.)

Conclusion:

This is a good plan that should be of great interest to many suburbanites in temperate climates.

PROS: Makes use of otherwise-wasted yard space during the cold months. Encourages outdoor exercise.

CONS: Adding the hazards of a swimming pool to the hazards of a trampoline might not be a winning combination.

If you wear jeans, trousers, pantaloons, or slacks, you should jump onto the Internet-of-Things bandwagon with a new technology that is, statistically, unlikely to electrocute you!

Background:

With the advent of “the Internet of things” (or “IoT” if you prefer), it has become possible to put electronic gizmos in nearly any consumer product. If you ever wanted to add a speaker, some LED lights, or a GPS tracker into a some random household object, now’s the time!

The Issue:

Strangely, despite the existence of IoT-enabled clothing (“wearables”), the IoT has not yet addressed a common garment-configuration question: “is the zipper on my jeans still unzipped?” (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: This question also applies to the fly of button-based trousers, but for the sake of simplicity, we will limit ourselves to zippers in this proposal.

Yet the technology already exists to alert the wearer of this fashion faux pas!

Proposal:

The solution here is incredibly simple: to detect if the zipper is unzipped, just conduct electricity through it. If the circuit is closed, then electricity will be conducted and we know that the zipper is zipped (Figure 2).

This information can then be transmitted to the user’s smartphone, which will make an informed decision to potentially send the wearer the text message “FYI: your fly is unzipped.”

Fig. 2: In this highly technical electronic diagram, the button must be fastened and the zipper must be ≥90% zipped for the circuit to be completed. Note that only the top part of the zipper is electrically conductive.

Conclusion:

This is one of the most obvious applications for “IoT wearables.” How is this not yet a product!

PROS: Brings a long-overdue technological update to an ancient leg-covering technology.

CONS: Malfunctions may result in a particularly unpleasant electrocution. This is the price of progress.

An unlimited-number-of-words command-line-utility version of the word game “Wordle” is exactly what is needed to live a fulfilling life in the modern era. See below for the extremely user-unfriendly process of running this script in a terminal window!

Background:

In early 2022, the word-guessing game “Wordle” had a moment in the spotlight as an Internet sensation.

In this game, a player attempts to guess a 5-letter word in as few tries as possible. Each guess provides a user with a certain amount of information as to how close they are to the actual correct answer (in a fashion similar to the game “Mastermind”).

A number of alternative word-based versions were quickly created, but—strangely—no general-purpose game for guessing X words of length Y letters has yet been made available.

Proposal:

Until now! A very user-unfriendly command-line Python script is now available for playing a clone version of Wordle with as many words and letters as you like (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: With “-n=4,” we have four five-letter words to guess at once. This mimics the functionality of the Wordle variant that goes by the name “Quordle.” With “-n=8,” we would be mimicking “Octordle.”
Fig. 2: After finishing a game with the settings from Figure 1, the result looks like this.

One important new feature is that we can also specify, say, “–letters=12” to guess twelve-letter words (Figure 3) instead of five-letter words.

Fig. 3: Twelve letter words are substantially harder to think of, as it turns out.

Or perhaps instead of twelve-letter words, we want twelve words:

Fig. 4: For the true word-guessing fan, maybe 12 words are more suitable than a mere 1, 4, or 8.

But the real bonus here is that you can increase the numbers as much as you want (Fig. 5)—at least, until you run out of words in your dictionary.

Fig. 5: For the true word-guessing fan, maybe 12 words of length 8 is more appealing than a mere 1, 4, or 8.
Fig. 6: As a convenience feature, you can also share spoiler-free emoji versions of your guessing process with your friends! Just think how much they’d like to get a message that looks like this!

How do I get this amazing Python script?

This script can be downloaded at: https://worstplans.com/python-3-source-code-command-line-wordle-clone-for-unlimited-words-of-unlimited-length/ . It’s super user-unfriendly, so only the intersection of [command-line fans] and [word game fans] should subject themselves to the inconvenience of trying to figure out how to run this.

PROS: Provides an enhanced degree of word-guessing that should satisfy even the most ravenous consumer of this esoteric means of entertainment.

CONS: Might leads to massive national productivity loss if people spend all day long trying to solve 128 eight-letter words in as few guesses as possible.

Motivate music students by teaching the forbidden secret chords: H, J, K, Z-minor, Omega, and more!

Background:

Most musical instruments are capable of playing more than one note a time. This is typically referred to as a “chord.” 

The Issue:

Unfortunately, the list of chords is relatively small and well-understood (Fig 1): once music students learn them, they won’t have any more aspirational chord-learning goals, and will surely become demoralized.

Fig. 1: Normal guitar chords. You can print out all the practical ones on a regular-sized sheet of paper! After that, the mystery is gone.

Proposal:

We can take inspiration from Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, which begins with “…I’ve heard there was a secret chord…” . Unfortunately, the specific secret chord in question is never revealed, so we’ll have to just create our own new set of “secret” chords.

These will use letters beyond just A, B, C, D, E, F, and G; perhaps even including Greek letters, Chinese characters, ancient Sumerian cuneiform.

There’s only one problem: what would these new esoteric chords actually be? For one possibility, see Figure 2.

Fig. 2: Most guitar-like stringed instruments are played by pressing down on certain strings with one hand and strumming / plucking the strings with the other hand: thus, only ONE side of the strings are actually being used. Here, we see a possible application of the “secret” chords: the user presses down the frets as shown (the circles in the middle of the diagram) and then strums with TWO additional hands (red arrows, labeled “1” and “2”). In this fashion, both sides of the guitar can be played simultaneously, adding efficiency to musical output.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear how additional “forbidden chords” could be created for instruments like the piano, where the internal workings are somewhat isolated from the user, and thus resistant to the shenanigans described in Figure 2.

Conclusion:

By motivating music students with the tantalizing secret of forbidden knowledge, we can improve national musical education!

PROS: Motivates music students. If the “strum in two locations” system in Figure 2 is adopted, musical efficiency (notes per seconds) is increased by 100%, which should give our nation a competitive edge in the creative arts.

CONS: None! This is entirely practical, and should be adopted immediately.

Don’t let webcams and laptops spy on you: preserve your privacy with the automatically-closing spring-loaded manual camera cover!

Background:

In the modern era, people generally have at multiple wirelessly-enabled Internet-accessible cameras and microphones (Figure 1) within arm’s reach for 90% of their waking hours.

Fig. 1: The most popular “it could potentially be watching me” devices are currently: 1) smartphones, 2) regular computers, 3) home security cameras, and 4) camera-enabled ”smart” hubs.

The Issue:

The proliferation of cameras in the home can pose a privacy issue: the only thing preventing a camera and microphone from turning on is software, which means that it’s fundamentally impossible to guarantee that a camera can’t turn on at any moment.

Many cameras have a tiny “on” light (Figure 2), but this is usually not especially noticeable.

Fig. 2: This “on” light is better than nothing, but there’s a big difference between “you can’t be spied on” and “you might possibly notice when you are spied on.”

Proposal:

The most obvious solution is also the most widespread: physically cover the camera! As long as there’s no electronic mechanism to open the cover, software bugs (and malware) can’t uncover the camera. The user has to physically reach over to it every time they want it on.

The most popular solutions:

  • ▪ Yellow sticky note. Works fine, but annoying to add/remove. Can fall off laptop screens.
  • ▪ A more “professional” plastic camera-blocking slider that sticks (with adhesive) to the laptop screen. This works extremely well, but the user must remember to close the slider.

We can enhance this plastic camera-cover slider by making it spring-loaded, so that it will automatically close after a certain amount of time (Figure 3).

Fig. 3: Left: a laptop camera. Middle: a circular spring-loaded camera cover. The center spindle (lime green) is  attached adhesively to the laptop screen. Right: A) the user uncovers the camera by spinning the cover counter-clockwise. Over time, B) the cover slowly moving back towards C) its original position, which covers the camera. The spring is (somehow) located in the lime center spindle.

Now the user can’t forget to re-cover their camera after using it for a meeting!

Conclusion:

A fancier version of this idea be integrated into the laptop itself by the manufactorer: a physical cover that could be closed by software (perhaps after a configurable time delay) but could only be opened by a user-controlled physical mechanism.

PROS: This is a practical extension to the plastic “camera cover slider” device.

CONS: It’s a bit unclear how sturdy the aftermarket circular cover would be in practice: it might be too large and awkward to survive daily use on a laptop.

Color-changing foods: cook everything to perfection with this new probably-non-toxic color-changing food dye!

Background:

Many foods require a certain minimum amount of cooking time, yet there isn’t always an obvious visual indicator of “done”-ness.

The Issue:

As a result of the lack of a visual indicator, a chef must laboriously inspect food by (for example) cutting into it, poking it with a fork, or tasting it. These time-consuming tasks reduce our overall national productivity!

Proposal:

It should be feasible to put color-changing dyes into various foods that will indicate that a certain temperature has been reached for a certain amount of time (Fig 1).

Fig. 1: Here, we see the new “cooking indicator” pasta (in this case, spaghetti), which starts a normal color (blue arrow) and changes red when it is perfectly cooked (green arrow). What degree of cooking is “perfect“ is left as an exercise for the reader.

Conclusion:

This could be especially useful for steak: if the steak changed from red (raw) to green (rare) to blue (medium rare) to purple (medium), etc…, then even the most inept cook could make a proper steak every time. And the person who requested the steak would instantly know that the steak was cooked to their specifications. For a table that ordered more than one steak, no longer would the waiter need to remember which was which!

PROS: Should decrease the number of under-cooked foods, thus reducing food poisoning cases.

CONS: May lead to a tyrannical regime in which eating al dente pasta is taboo (similar to cannibalism or eating household pets), simply due to the lack of color change in the pasta. Also, if the “properly cooked” color is always the same (e.g., suppose it is green), then people might start to assume that every green object in the world is edible.

Find qualified employees for your business more easily: replace the normal job interview with the updated “heist planning” interview!

Background:

Hiring a new employee can be difficult: It’s hard to find a candidate who collaborates well, is reliable, is cool under pressure, and has a valuable set of skills.

The Issue:

The job interview process is archaic, and most interviews rely on the candidate self-reporting their behavior (e.g. “how did you resolve a conflict that you had with a coworker?”).

The candidate might provide an true answer, but these questions are easy to predict, so a well-prepared candidate could just be telling a fake rehearsed store instead.

The worst part is, a fake story that had been told many times would probably sound better than a real “on the spot” answer! Thus, the current system may actually penalize honest candidates.

Proposal:

Fortunately, there’s a situation that is very similar to the job interview: the team-assembly part of a heist in a movie. Most jobs require the same qualities that a heist protagonist should have (reliability, trustworthiness, skill, etc.).

Thus, the solution is obvious: instead of conducting a traditional interview, have the candidate plan a heist!

The most promising heist templates are ensemble cast movies with an overcomplicated scheme. For example, Ocean’s Eleven (1960 & 2001), The Italian Job (1969 & 2003), La Casa de Papel (2017), The Heist of the Century (2020), and some of the heists in Grand Theft Auto V (2013).

These heists have the following useful qualities:

  • The mission is sufficiently complicated as to resemble running a business.
  • Everyone brings a different skill to the mission.
  • The cast usually has a low proportion of crazed murderers (although there may be one or two).

Heists to avoid using as templates would include Heat (1995), Bonnie & Clyde (1967), and Point Break (1991), since:

  • The “heist” is basically just one or more regular bank robberies with minimal planning.
  • Everyone has the same skillset (“can hold a gun”).
  • The cast contains a non-negligible fraction of unstable murderers. “Unstable murderer” is a personality trait that is generally considered non-desirable by employers.

Regardless of the heist movie we choose as our template, a heist-styled interview will allow a candidate to demonstrate how they work in a high-pressure high-stakes situation.

The interview would work as follows:

  • The candidate arrives for the interview and gets a coffee.
  • The interviewer unrolls a “heist planning” blueprint (and/or a corkboard with lots of red string on it) and asks the interviewer what their proposed role would be in the heist depicted in the blueprint (Figure 1).
Fig. 1: Just imagine the candidate’s delight when, instead of being asked “Tell me a time when your boss asked you to do something that was un-achievable,” the candidate is asked “Ok, we’re going to clean out the Diamond Emporium in 35 minutes. Are you in???” Even if the candidate isn’t hired, it would be a very memorable interview.
  • After, say, 15 minutes of planning, the interviewer supplies some gloves and a mask for the candidate, and the interviewer and candidate go down to the garage, where a van is waiting to pull off the heist. The candidate then takes their preferred role in the heist (e.g. demolitions expert, driver, hacker, etc…).
  • To avoid a high attrition rate of employees, the heist is pre-arranged in a fake “escape-room” like scenario. This will provide the same time pressure and simulated danger as an actual heist, but avoid the ~25% chance of each heist participant being gunned down (this would be bad, since the heist-hiring-process would otherwise result in fewer employees, which is the opposite of what hiring is for).

Conclusion:

Using this heist-based hiring process has several advantages: it shows how a candidate actually operates under stress (rather than being self-reported), it allows a candidate to demonstrate their teamwork skills, and it lets the employer know if the candidate has otherwise-hard-to-evaluate skills (such as crashing through a skylight while rappelling down a rope dangling from a helicopter).

PROS: Allows companies to evaluate their job candidates on heretofore-unobservable qualities. Could also be used by criminal masterminds who are planning an actual heist.

CONS: Interviewing can already be stressful, so it’s unclear if “what if we made it even more stressful” is a great solution. Could cause otherwise-non-heist-inclined individuals to get a taste for danger and turn to a life of crime.