NOVEMBER - PS4 vs Xbox One
The best and worst of the internet occurred as winter’s chill rolled in. The UK Conservative party attempted to eradicate its web history, removing speeches and news stories in what appeared to be a desperate rewrite of history. Search engines were blocked from keeping records of past pledges, one of which ironically outlined the need to be accountable and transparent online. The flip-side: Batkid. The web rallied to give five-year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott a day to remember. Make-A-Wish and countless volunteers turned San Francisco into Gotham City, tasking the teeny superhero with rescuing a damsel in distress and capturing a motley crew of colourful villains.
As the PS4 launched, London’s OXO Tower gained familiar PlayStation symbols, while the country readied itself for Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary. A Google Doodle whetted the appetite, with an isometric 8-bit-style maze game, and then the episode itself merrily broke records, becoming the world’s largest simulcast, and generating a colossal 1.3 million iPlayer requests in the 24 hours after first broadcast.
We imagine November was a month in which quite a few people wish they had the Doctor’s TARDIS, but none more so than James Howells. He threw away a computer hard drive with 7,500 bitcoins he’d mined when the going was easy; the value of the drive buried under a metre or more of Welsh landfill was estimated at £4.6 million.
The month also marked the beginning of easing in-flight rules regarding electronic device usage. Airlines scrambled to say they would now allow gate-to-gate use of devices in airplane mode, and tentatively predicted in-flight mobile calls in the near future. At that point, we’ll probably all want in on that TARDIS — or to borrow a Dalek to exterminate anyone yelling into a device while sharing a flying tin can with dozens of miffed onlookers.
DECEMBER - Hello, censorship!
With December being a month for warmth, happiness and general fuzzy feelings, we’ll start with the bad stuff first. BT turned on web filtering by default, while presumably screaming “Why won’t anyone think of the children?” Politicians and The Daily Mail crowed about a great victory, but Newsnight pointed out the filters not only failed to block quite a bit of porn, but also they denied access to sex education content along with websites for rape and abuse crisis centres. ISPs unsurprisingly talked about categorisations being updated over time, but the reality is these problems will always exist with algorithmic blocking.
At the more bizarre end of the tech news spectrum, a £30 Android tablet landed in the UK, making even Tesco’s Hudl seem pricey. The UbiSlate 7Ci was originally created for an educational scheme in India, but has brought its charms to Blighty. And by ‘charms’, we mean its meagre 4 GB of storage, three hours of battery live, and dated 800-by-480 screen resolution. We’ve a sneaking suspicion it won’t be vying for a category win in Stuff’s Gadget Awards any time soon.
So, on to the warm and fuzzy — and there was plenty of that this December. After a certain online retailer fired some stupid on to the internet about drone-based deliveries, Waterstones introduced its charming Ornithological Waterstones Landing Service (OWLS); through social networking, a girl’s treasured lost toy found its way home; and homeless man Leo Grand’s app, Trees for Cards was released.
The one that really got to us, though, was the story of Cecil Williams and Orlando. Williams is blind, and Orlando is his guide dog who heroically saved his owner’s life as he fell on to the tracks at a subway platform. With Orlando now 11 years old, he was due to retire and leave his master, who’d get a replacement younger guide. Indiana Law student Grant Kirsh decided otherwise, and began an Indiegogo campaign, which raised tens of thousands of dollars, thereby ensuring Williams and Orlando will now not be parted; the pair can instead look forward to a very happy new year together.