William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Contest! Dumbest & Most Frustrating Modern Invention

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Contest!

Win a Coffee Cup to the Stars!

What is the Dumbest & Most Frustrating Modern Invention? What is the work of man that has given the most annoyance or has caused the most waste of time and effort? What creation has most promised to be a boon but which has turned into the largest colossal boondoggle?

Could it be Car Alarms? The Comprehensive, Employee-Written Performance Review? PowerPoint? The Electric Guitar? Hip Hop? Cell Phones? Celebrities? The National Institute of Health? Facebook? The P-value Itself? Vatican II? Instant Replay Review?

The Environmental Protection (protecting whom from what?) Agency? Backup Beeps? Restaurant Inspections? Diet Pop? Sliced Bread? Microwave Ovens? Academic Feminism? GPS in Cars? White Boards? Whole Foods? The Transportation Security Administration?

Nothing before the turn of the last century should be included: for greatest consideration, stick to the past 50 years. And nothing that doesn’t suit it purpose admirably. For instance, atomic weapons. Nasty business to be under one when it springs to life, but it cannot be said that its boom is a bust. We want false, over-blown promises.

You don’t have to pick from my list, which is only a rough guide. Inspect your molars and recall what ground them down. Say what the worst invention is, but also say why. Be succinct.

Rules

Enter below in the comments by midnight Eastern Time 18 August 2015. No emails. Your entry must FIRST consist of the word ENTRY (to distinguish it from ordinary comments), followed by a TITLE of your nomination, to be completed by NO LESS than 50 but NO MORE than 150 words describing your reasoning. Provide your REAL EMAIL in the comment box (where it asks) if you want to be notified of your victory. No inventions before 1900.

I am the sole judge and arbiter. No whining.

The winner will be announced the week of the 17th. The lone victor will receive a WMBriggs.com official mug1. I’ll email the victor for an address where I can send the mug.

I may write about this contest elsewhere. If so, I may quote you.

—————————————————————-

1Designed expressly for whiskey and demon rum.

62 Comments

  1. PowerPoint. If you doubt me I’ll send you a deck filled with bullet points that will leave you convinced.

  2. Entry: PC/MS – DOS and MS-Windows

    The argument is first that the product set involved is terrible, second that it was an unnecessary backward step in the evolution of computing, and third that its sales success held back progress by others for an average in excess of 20 years.

    e.g. PC-DOS was a renamed QDOS sold to IBM by Bill Gates Senior (at the time an IBM board member and senior legal counsel). QDOS, contracted by Bill Gates jr. for this purpose was a mangled copy of CP/M with new names for the major utilities. As such, PC-DOS achieved nothing new except the sale itself, contributed nothing to computing R&D except to redirect monies to Gates et al, and set back Microsoft’s own technology because Gates had also contracted development of a Unix variant (Xenix) for the 8088 processor, which PC-DOS sales then buried.

    Windows, when it came out, copied Apple copying Xerox – but what is less well known is that people at UCB had Unix windowing systems running at about the same time and that products like SunView first, and NEWS later, provided solid multi-tasking windowing in the early 1980s – as functional, but more reliable, than Windows 2000/XP 20 years later.

    etc .. etc

  3. Briggs

    August 11, 2015 at 9:12 am

    txxlr, All,

    Note: that wasn’t an official entry (which I’m sure you probably knew). PowerPoint is still up for grabs.

  4. ENTRY

    AIR BLOWING HAND DRYERS

    Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’d really like to have cold air whip past my wet hands until everyone in the airport bathroom is lined up behind me and I have
    to leave with sopping wet hands anyway?” Do you enjoy design ironies, such as devices that suck at blowing? If so, then ABHDs are the product for you. If you’ve pondered, perhaps like Dyson, “Does a 120 dB scream from a little metal box really dry my hands faster?” and managed to sell this product before any testing, congratulations! In addition, thanks to the energy ‘savings’ of needing 3 or 4 dozen passes, soon these devices will be highly regulated by the EPA. Remember, if you don’t leave the bathroom with a couple wet handprints on your clothes, then you aren’t saving the world.

  5. COMMENT

    Rules do not say how many entries.

    For that and any other ambiguities in the rules, what application should we use?

    Is it : “everything which is not forbidden is allowed” England, OR
    : “everything which is not allowed is forbidden” Germany. OR
    : “everything is allowed even if it is forbidden” France, OR
    : “everything is forbidden, even that which is expressly allowed” Russia, OR
    : “everything that is not forbidden is compulsory” North Korea?

  6. COMMENT

    TXSLR:
    Briggs wants you to send 50-150 wordsworth of bullets from your deck.

    Paul Murphy: Microsoft Word tells me that your entry exceeds the NO MORE than 150 words RULE! (Since Briggs pointed out txslr’s but not yours, my question about the RULEs still stands

  7. Or was txslr’s problem that he didn’t open with “Entry”?

  8. La Longue Carabine

    August 11, 2015 at 10:07 am

    “1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
    2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
    3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
    — Douglas Adams

    I vote for Internet porn. No brown wrapper, no lurking in the seedy part of town, same great damage.

  9. ENTRY:

    NO-FEE TV, i.e., Commercial Television.

    How does one pay for NO FEE TV? By the willingness to subject oneself to the number, intrusiveness, and the often revolting content of the commercials.

    The number of commercials on any given program continues to be raised to the maximum pain level and their content often reminds us of various bodily functions we would rather not think about. Or we get the hard sell for some $19.95 object we can very much do without. Or we get to feel bad because we can’t afford something, or will never look that good, or find the commercial insulting, etc. etc.

    Now if your business is becoming a saint the penitential practice of emulating yourself in front of a television set NO-FEE might be just for you. For others, not so much.

    Fortunately, there are other alternatives. Like reading. Going to church. Making love or even signing up for Fee TV. Fee beats Free any day!

  10. ENTRY:

    Industrial Wind Turbines:

    Let’s take a bad idea (Wind Power used on the grid) and apply the idea of “economies of scale” to make it seem like a good idea.

    – Wind Power for off-grid use may make sense where the cost of connecting to the grid would be prohibitive

    Even though five hundred foot abstract sculptures would look good anywhere, anytime, their use on grid is not improved nor made appropriate by the increase in “economies of scale”. Ten or a hundred or a thousand times worthless is that much more worthless (if scales of worthlessness is possible). (Especially considering it as a solution to a non-problem. Even if there were a problem, it’s still a non-solution.)

  11. ENTRY: the battery operated fork
    TITLE: battery operated fork
    REASON: You have to ask?

    http://www.amazon.com/Hog-Wild-Twirling-Spaghetti-Fork/dp/B001HXD4U2

    Note: that wasn’t an official entry

    Kinda like missing a Jeopardy round because the answer wasn’t framed as a question. Sheesh.

    Michael Dowd,
    Unfortunately, the intrusive and revolting commercials often appear even when you are paying.

  12. I know that is the case with Public Television with their endless money drives and 10 minutes time outs to get it done. But please let me know about other examples of commercials on fee tv. Thank you.

  13. Wind Turbines

    Expensive, intermittent, death to all flying creatures.

  14. Solar Furnace Towers

    Expensive, intermittent, death to all flying creatures.

  15. ENTRY
    TITLE: Cat toys
    REASON: Simply, cats ignore them. Sometimes cats even are afraid of the battery-powered ones that whirl and whiz. They ultimately end up lying around the house gathering dust and lurking where you’re sure to step on them and cut your feet or slip and fall. They’re not cheap and evoke no more attention or exercise than a wiggled piece of string will do. According to the 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, owners spend an average of $28/year on cat toys. With almost 43 million households having cats, that comes to over a billion dollars. You don’t have to be a cat-lover to realize these dumb inventions are really meant to attract the owner rather than the cat.

  16. ENTRY
    TITLE: The Computer itself.
    Without it there would be no Powerpoint, no DOS, Windows, Word, spreadsheets, Cell Phones (selfies?), GPS in Cars, Instant replay review, &c, &c, &C.

    But the trump card is this: without it the development of Massive Supercolliders would have been impossible thus thwarting next year’s annihilation of the universe.

  17. The Turnip Twaddler–no wait, that was fictitious.

    The EPA is failing to protect us from orange rivers. 🙂

    ENTRY

    TITLE: Windows in any version

    I am voting Windows operating system. A pox on society if ever there was one. Of course, I blame Bill Gates for everything, so I might be a bit prejudiced.
    Why did I pick Windows–because it taught people to not think, made them dependent on a computer for nearly everything, and because its constant version changes, security patches, etc were so annoying and expensive. Windows is not what computers could have been.

    (Note: I typed this without looking at other entries so any matching to already present entries is purely coincidental. Or great minds think alike maybe…..)

  18. Nominate: High Fructose Corn Syrup sugar substitute.
    Reason, e.g.: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/4/895.full

  19. Why did I pick Windows–because it taught people to not think, made them dependent on a computer for nearly everything

    Actually it was Apple who introduced the GUI into the PC market with Lisa and Macintosh. There were very expensive GUI machines earlier such as the one from SGI. It took Microsoft some time to copy Apple. In Unix and linux, it exists as an X display and desktops. The linux system I’m using is not much different than the Windows machine next to it. It made computers more useful because the interface is more intuitive.

    Then there are cell phones.

  20. ENTRY:

    The Internet of Things.

    ‘Nuff said.

  21. ENTRY
    Without a shred of doubt I nominate “modern communication” known as HYPE, otherwise known as lack of REFLECTION. Found everywhere on television, computers, cell phones and meetings, mindless uttering are broadcast as the truth. No matter the source these utterances, they are recognized by an inherent love of self aggrandizement. As there is no single truth, one must pause and reflect on what we hear, then search out sources where we can find thoughtful acceptance or rejection of what is presented; case in point “climate change”. It helps to reach beyond our finite surroundings to pray to the infinite source of divine love and divine wisdom.

  22. ENTRY

    TITLE Journalism reinvented as activism and a branch of progressive politics

    Most journalism students now want to make a difference instead of focusing on objective reporting. The progressive, activist bias on editorial staffs is rampant. Pursuing the Tea Party and conservatives is now considered the highest virtue while progressives get such questions as “boxers or briefs?” They are causing their own destruction as readership declines due to the alienation of half the population. Will anyone reinvent the press again in the next 50 years and get the tepid respect back from when it was watchdog to all political parties?

  23. Modern American Conservatism. Nothing but an excuse for greed and bigotry, feeding the dumb and backwards sycophants, it is annoying, counter-productive, anti-intellectual, and barbaric. Worst invention of the past 50 years.

    JMJ

  24. Comment I’ve got a bit of money to invest. Say, is there a market where I can go short on J McJ’s entry?

  25. Sander van der Wal

    August 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    ENTRY

    TITLE The Reality Show
    The most pointless TV program in existence. Replace the Telly with a mirror and you can look at a complete idiot for free.

  26. ENTRY
    TITLE: The Kardashians
    This so-called family has been the root cause of hundreds of millions of hours of wasted time as readers and viewers allow the trite, vain, talentless, often vulgar exploits of this group of people to be poured into their brains as a proxy for having real experiences of their own.

  27. Is JMJ actually within the last century cut-off? Were there no conservatives prior to 1915, even if under a different name? (I’d love to see JMJ actually show he is a real person sometime. Currently, I believe he’s a parrot that clicks on a computer key and posts a message. Same verse over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. )

    DAV: You seem to believe computers where supposed to be intuitive, like that is a good thing. Linux and unix do look very much like Windows now–what choice did they have? Expensive computers were not a bad thing in my opinion. Look where cheap ones got us. (Cell phones are just baby computers, you know.)

  28. ENTRY 1: Cell Phones
    REASON: watch people on the street or in cars.

  29. ENTRY 2: Computer games
    REASON: they divert bright kids from reading, playing physical games, they’re addictive, they modify the neural circuits, and most importantly,
    I’m no good at them.

  30. ENTRY
    TITLE: United States Federal Reserve

    The US Federal Reserve was created in 1914, supposedly intended to thwart financial panics. The fact that the Great Depression soon followed is one of history’s grim ironies. Since then, by causing massive consumer price inflation, it has become the greatest engine of social injustice. Its erosion of purchasing power hits the poor and neediest the hardest, after all. Furthermore, by relying upon statistics for setting policy, it arguably perpetuates the worst abuses of the discipline on the largest possible scale.

  31. (Cell phones are just baby computers, you know.)

    Don’t I know it.
    Careful what you say in the presence of their delicate ears — there’s no telling how they might misconstrue it when they grow up. If you think computers are warped now …..

  32. Entry #2
    Title: Search engines that don’t
    Biggest pain of internet usage—Google and other search engines that look for everything except what you asked. You try twenty different variations, quotes, etc and the allegedly helpful engine brings up tomato soup when you asked for the location of the Kmart store in Las Vegas. (Kind of like the commercial for learning disabilities where the phone pretends not to understand to show parents how their child feels—except it’s not a demonstration and there’s no actually getting what you searched for.) Sure, we need a search engine—a REAL one that actually does what you ask. Too bad that was not invented.

  33. ENTRY

    TITLE: Sex Change Operation

    There is no need for a surgical procedure to turn a man into a woman when generous doses of Leftism from cradle to grave seem to do the trick.

    TITLE: Peer Review Process

    Euphemism for the system of suppressing dissent in science. Science is now safely in the hands of the experts who became experts by not dissenting from previous experts. A perfect circle to produce perfectly circular science.

    (I did two because neither was fifty words on its own.)

  34. ENTRY: Mission Statements.

    Does a tiger have a mission statement? Turn tasty prey animals into baby tigers and tiger poop, while terrorizing everything in my territory? No, it does not! Because – follow this closely – it knows what it is doing! A mission statement is conclusive proof that the statemented unit does NOT know what it is doing.

  35. ENTRY: Critical Thinking.

    As opposed to regular thinking? This Orwellian euphemism for getting in line with what your betters want you to feel is meant precisely to prevent the thinking the words might otherwise suggest. Bigotry under the guise of objectivity, as it is only ever applied to what your enemies hold dear, never to one’s own opinions.

  36. ENTRY: Academic Philosophy

    The last public philosopher, in the sense that he’d get invited to big public events to say what he thought, was probably Heidegger, and people stopped asking even him after the 1950’s. Since then, no sane person wants to hear what people teaching in mainstream philosophy departments have to say about anything. That’s what you call a hint. The only redeeming qualities of this useless and annoying development is as a cautionary tale, and as a source of bitter amusement: watching analytic philosophers try to piggyback science as a means of gaining legitimacy while being held in utter contempt by actual scientist is worth a chuckle.

    Meanwhile, it rots the brains of gullible college student, who’d get more out of really understanding 1 random page of Aristotle than they’ll get from 4 years of this navel-gazing tripe.

    (NOTE: sure, this goes back to at least the mid-1800s in America, and maybe all the way back to 1630 in Europe, but it didn’t squeeze everything else out here until the last century. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

  37. Jay Bhattacharya

    August 11, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    ENTRY: email

    Lowering the real price of placing tasks, information, and solicitations of dubious value on the agenda of busy people was a good idea why exactly? Combine that with the crazy social norm that emails must be answered right away, and it is clear that emails are a step backward from the snail mail they displaced.

  38. ENTRY
    TITLE – THE ELECTRIC TOILET
    REASON – Pushing a toilet flush just isn’t that difficult. We don’t need a button and electric motor to serve this function. Also, during a power loss, one is up sh*t’s creek.

  39. Joseph, I agree that Mission Statements are idiotic!

  40. ENTRY
    Automated touch-tone response systems.
    No other invention has wasted more time for businesses or consumers. Why do I have to “press 1 for English”, wait for response, listen to a list of 8 possible reasons I have called, then press 9 to hear the list again? It might have been spawned by the lack of qualified receptionists, but maybe we could start a 4 year degree program to train a few.

  41. ENTRY
    The 24-hour news network and the resultant 24/7 news cycle
    How else could the masses get whipped into a frenzy and believe that statistically rare occurrences are rampant epidemics without the constant drone of cable news channels? How else could viewers so effectively be told what to believe, how to vote, who to deify? Lengthy trials are a thing of the past now that the all-important media trial can determine guilt. CNN, Fox, et. al. have turned propaganda into an art form.

  42. Nate Winchester

    August 11, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Any operating system post-DOS.

  43. Dowd at 10:13 beat me to it, so consider this a second.

    I’d have phrased it TV, as it encourages emotional reactions instead of reasoned responses. The ads are bad, but I think there are other effects that are just as awful.

  44. ENTRY: Television

    Yes, sometimes it is wonderful, with informative programs and wildlife documentaries and access to concerts that you may not have the chance to see live, but:
    People not uncommonly watch 30-40 hours a week or more. It encourages mindless passivity and lack of communication and interaction. It is used as a cheap baby-sitter.
    Children become more likely to learn behaviours and values from TV shows than from their family. They don’t read and are unable to concentrate on anything lacking animated graphics.
    It suppresses real knowledge and critical thinking. People believe what they see because the camera can’t lie, right? Worst case, it becomes a conduit for the establishment of thought control.
    The vast majority is just cheap crap. Soap operas, reality shows, cheesy game shows…
    It is attended by tons of advertisements designed to make you spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need.

  45. ENTRY
    TITLE: Political Correctness
    REASON: It’s used as a weapon to neutralize opposition rather than to correct bad or obnoxious behavior. Social shaming has some usefulness when the standards are well established, commonly held, historically validated, consistent, reasonably stable, and judiciously applied. PC fails all these criteria. The modern virulent form destroys it’s victims instead of bringing them into the fold. Its perniciousness comes from its flexibility and slipperiness in the hands of skilled practitioners. It can’t be defeated by reasoning with those who practice it, thus frustrating those who understand its evil. It demands utter groveling or banishment. It is the opposite of forgiveness.

  46. ENTRY
    TITLE: Twitter
    REASON:

  47. ENTRY
    TITLE: Twitter
    REASON: Twitter is used mostly as a high-tech version of schoolyard bullying. It’s employed as a weapon to pick fights, annoy others, spread gossip, and generally make a nuisance of oneself. It shouts FIRE! in the crowded theater with impunity. 140 characters lends itself to misunderstanding except when being used to insult someone. Insults must be pithy. A reasoned discussion can’t be so condensed. This one clearly is both dumb and frustrating.

  48. Milton Hathaway

    August 12, 2015 at 3:55 am

    ENTRY JavaScript

    The Internet could have been a magical hyper-linked wonderland that ushered one into a brave new world of interesting unfamiliar content with each new mouse click, with the ‘surfer’ firmly ensconced in the driver’s seat. Then along came JavaScript and shat lumps of sadistic user hostility droppings everywhere, making everything ten times harder and generally stinking up the place beyond all toleration.

  49. John B():

    “e.g.” means “exempli gratia” – Count the words in:


    P C MS – D O S and MS Windows
    The argument is first that the product set involved is terrible, second that it was an unnecessary backward step in the evolution of computing, and third that its sales success held back progress by others for an average in excess of 20 years.

  50. Entry

    Title: Laser Pointers

    Reason: Laser Pointers are used by presenters who are now necessarily turned away from the audience (which is poor form). More importantly it is nearly impossible to maintain a sufficiently steady hand for them to not be an inherent distraction. A stick or hand is far more effective.

    For some reason, people also use laser pointers to tease cats, and to scare others into thinking they might have a weapon with laser aim, neither of which are especially useful.

  51. Paul Murphy :

    Over 50 words including the title. (The meat is 43 by my count and MS Word.)

    So e.g. literally means examples for free? Learn something new.

    I’ve been privy to and taken part in “Gates Bashing” for a long time.
    (I did NOT realize, though, that Gates, Sr. was an IBM mucky muck. It wasn’t included in the Gates’ rags-to-riches story I’ve been aware of. It seems to be more than just nepotism but outright Conflict-of-Interest.)

    I remember Borland and others’ complaints and lawsuits about MS not disclosing technical information that gave MS developers a leg up over their competitions.

    I vote for your entry if that has any sway with Briggs.

  52. Entry

    Briggs’ Status/Update “widget”.

    Wednesday, 11 August

    I’ll be on WallBuilders Live at noon ET, and then Chuck Wilder at CRN at 3:24 PM ET

    Grievances: Unacknowledged failure to update. Updates with wrong day. Updates with wrong date. (Or both)

  53. PLUG:
    Since my entry–“the Computer itself”-a greater part than a third of contest entries would be obviated by the non-existence of “the Computer itself”.

  54. ENTRY

    Self Checkout Systems

    Good idea, bad implementation. The cause of failure is the system logic that weighs the customer’s purchase to detect theft. Invariably this check fails, the system balks and the Self Checkout System loses the “Self” adjective as a supervisor must intervene
    .

  55. John B(),

    Everything is allowed until it is forbidden. The regulators shall have the right to retroactively forbid.

    Everything is forbidden, but enforcement is lax / arbitrary / capricious.

  56. Comment:
    You don’t need self checkout systems. You need cashiers/clerks who can tot up your purchase, take your money, make change, and give you your items all without a computer to tell them how to do it. They used to really exist.

  57. No one stated UN IPCC? How many trillions wasted so far? The countless meetings? Elaborate junkets not even achieving their own stated aims. Surely that has to be up there.

    Who said Google is useless? It directed me to:
    http://list25.com/25-most-useless-inventions-ever/1/
    Hard to pick a favourite in that list.

  58. ENTRY
    The Low-Flow Toilet.

    As Dave Barry puts it: “the toilets you have to flush at least three times to eliminate the evidence from the scene of the crime.”

    Nothing more describes the inanity of the modern era than the low-flow toilet. It was a solution searching for a problem, passed by lobbyists and environmentalists, and makes everybody’s lives just a little bit worse. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, the millions of homeowners who daily stand around frustratingly flushing “have the same effect as water on a prayer wheel, grinding out an endless fog of low-grade evil to pollute the metaphysical atmosphere for scores of miles around.”

  59. LOL Gary about the cat toys – so true! My cat was so frightened by the battery mouse that I had to play with it myself to show her that it was ok. She continued to avoid it, so I got rid of it. (Good thing it was a gift, no $$ lost) I don’t know how anyone could spend nearly $30 on cat toys; I only purchase one every other year. They don’t get played with during the summer because it is too hot in the house.

    Entry: Jeremy places a vote for cell phones,

  60. ENTRY

    The Enviromentalism Industry (EI)

    Since the years of the low hanging fruit (dirty air, dirty, water, etc.) in the 60’s, the EI has been wrong about every major over-hyped, imminent environmental catastrophy, they have thrown at us. None of them have come to pass, but we have invested huge amounts of money, time, concern and effort in them for no earthly reason.

  61. Car alarms – irritate everyone and yet ignored by everyone.

  62. ENTRY

    Submission: “Human Resources”

    So-called “Human Resources” is a non-human non-resource destructive spider that seeks our ultimate annihilation. It is the soul snatching nanny-state next door. Annihilation by protection: quite possibly the defining characteristic of all things modern. Flexing its smug muscle, human resources “protects” us from all forms of harassment and discrimination by institutionalizing modernist approved harassment and discrimination. Its highest goal is to ensure, for our happiness and well-being of course, that our daily work of filing papers and answering the phone is in reality just the set props of the most important point of our work: reifying Sesame Street. And as we reify, human resources extracts (by direct draft for convenience) a portion of the fleetingly tangible fruits of our labor to fund things that we “need” but are too dumb to find if left to our own devices. This taxation without representation it smilingly refers to as BENEFITS.

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