Weekly Tech Views – 25 – Best of 2015 – Top Ten!

Real tech stories. Really shaky analysis.

The Top 10.

Debate raged on at WTVB headquarters-which stories would make the top ten? There were strong opinions on all sides, and I'll admit things got heated at times-insults were hurled, Christmas gifts rescinded, turkey legs brandished threateningly-but finally a consensus was reached. And though I'm unlikely to get the blood and gravy stains out of my favorite GRISWOLD FAMILY CHRISTMAS sweatshirt, I'm happy with how the list turned out.

The final order of the top ten was determined by a blue ribbon panel comprised of me and a six-pack of Redd's Wicked Apple Ale.

So here they are, the top Weekly Tech Views stories of 2015. Remember when…?

Number 10 (July 25, 2015)...
We Will Rule The World… Sometime Between One And Five
Breakthrough Listen, a project designed to search for alien life, was announced on July 20, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The big question seems to be if we do find life, should we contact it? While there are very smart people on both sides of the debate, I find myself leaning toward the argument that says HAVE YOU SEEN THE COMMERCIALS FOR PIXELS?! The Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man? If pop culture has taught us anything, it's that the odds of Independence Day aliens showing up are much greater than those of E.T. dropping by.

But suppose we get a best-case scenario. Say we're the advanced race. We somehow pick up a stray transmission of their version of I Love Lucy (Ahd Vhrdaqqz Vggzzp). That's where they are technologically-TV's infancy. We contact them, and they're ecstatic to hear from us. "Come visit. Share your technology." And we go, with the best of intentions. But our nature being what it is, eventually there are a couple of superpowers battling to rule this planet, power and domination their only goals. And no matter which of these evil empires wins, be it Comcast or Time-Warner, this naively innocent planet will be subjected to customer service atrocities that they simply can not endure, lacking the decades of escalating inhumanities that have thickened our skins.

Number 9 (August 22, 2015)…
They've Got Their Spotif-Eye on You
Spotify's new Terms of Service allows the company-which, you may recall, is a music-streaming service-to access your phone's sensor to determine your GPS coordinates, whether you're walking, running, or standing still, access your photos and examine your contacts, all of which it may share with their partners. "Wow. I'm not sure we've ever seen anything that invasive," said a proctologists convention.

Number 8 (August 15,2015)…
Racing Drones Look to Nab NASCAR's "Do You Think He's Dead?" Fan Base
While the Drone Racing League is getting significant financial support, there is concern over how viewer-friendly the sport can be in person. Realizing that many NASCAR fans show up in hopes of seeing crashes, the DRL fears that unmanned drones may not provide high enough stakes, so when a drone does crash, the pilot on the ground-his or her image projected on a 400-foot Jumbotron-will be beaten around the head and shoulders with a bag of nickels.

Number 7 (September 12, 2015)…
Say, I've Been Looking for a New Way to Look Like an Idiot in Public
Nintendo is preparing to release Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game for smartphones that has you chasing the game's characters in the real world. It looks interesting, but the promotional video's scene of Pokemon characters running through Times Square is nothing new. If you don't see a sprinting Pikachu carrying an Elmo head and being chased by a cop (and the rest of Elmo) on a Thursday afternoon, you're not paying attention.

Number 6 (November 21, 2015)…
Emoji To Your Mother
Oxford Dictionaries named their annual Word of the Year this week, and the winner was… "Face with tears of joy" emoji. Of course, this emoji is not, if you're going to nitpick, actually in the Oxford Dictionary, nor what uptight purists would technically call a "word," but there you have it.

Whether or not this is just another flashy publicity stunt from the perpetually attention-seeking dictionary industry, it opens the door to a busy award season for the world's most popular emoji. With the ridiculous onus removed of having to officially belong to a group in order to be judged the best of it, FWTOJ is now the frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar and NBA Player of the Month.

Number 5 (August 8, 2015)…
Philadelphia Delinquent Apologizes for Killing Robot: "I Thought It Was Human"
Hitchbot, the hitchhiking robot that traversed Canada via the kindness of passing motorists, had less luck in the U.S., its travels coming to a violent end in Philadelphia, the town known for hundreds of years as The City of Brotherly Throwing of Ice Balls at Santa Claus During Eagles Games, at the hand of local thug Brucie Peterson.

"I was really drunk," said Mr. Peterson. "I saw this little dude standing on the corner, and I asked if he had a smoke. He ignored me, like he was better'n me, so I beat the crap out of him with the tire iron I carry. But, I swear, if I'd known it wasn't alive, I wouldn't have did it. I'm not a monster."

Number 4 (September 12, 2015)…
Hard Core Star Wars Fans Rebel Against Force Touch
An angry mob of Star Wars fans gathered outside this week's Apple event to protest the company's Force Touch feature, claiming it was intentionally deceptive. "They have shown with the Apple Watch that Force Touch does not mean you can control your device with your mind," said Tommy McCourty, raising and shaking his left arm, where a space black stainless steel Apple Watch rattled against the gold plastic of his C-3PO costume. "And just try to return it because of that. I'm pretty sure…" He turned to face the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, where Apple executives were, after eight hours, guiding the press event toward its halfway point, "…YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LAUGH AT CUSTOMERS!

"And now they want to claim the iPhone will have Force Touch? Enough is enough."

Just then, word reached the crowd that Apple was not, in fact, using the term Force Touch for iPhone interaction, but rather 3-D Touch. There was a momentary silence, and then a 250-pound man wearing a Princess Leia slave costume shouted, "We won!" and the air was filled with jubilant droid screams and Wookie bellows.

At last report, the vigilant crusaders were headed for the Glad company to demand the dismissal and possible execution of the creator of the ForceFlex garbage bags, which, it turns out, have to be tied by hand.

Numbers 3a, 3b, and 3c. (With the abundance of material the company provided, Ashley Madison was the Weekly Tech Views MVP, and these three stories ran consecutively on July 25, 2015)…

So You're Saying What Happens Between Two Consenting Adults Behind The Back Of A Non-Consenting Adult Isn't Private Anymore?
Earlier this week, Target and Home Depot shook their heads pityingly and said, "At least we aren't those guys," crooking their thumbs toward Ashley Madison, an adultery-promoting web site that was hacked this week. The group claiming responsibility for the hack has demanded the site be taken down, threatening, otherwise, to publicize the data they have obtained on the site's 37 million clients. If they do release the information, we expect to learn that:

1) The most requested username is Phil Landers.

2) The top reasons for joining are a) "He doesn't understand me," b) "She's frigid," and c) the classic, "Defiling the holy sanctity of my marriage vows is the only thing that makes me feel alive anymore."

3) Upwards of 60% of member bios include the phrase "I like pina coladas."

If We Learn Just One Thing…
Aside from the lascivious curiosity a story like this engenders, there are important issues that we need to take pains to understand-the vulnerability of data, the ethicality of "good" hacks-but the most vital takeaway, the one thing we all need to comprehend-and this is especially true for anyone related to me by marriage-is that I had never heard of this site before this week.

When It Rains…
Asked if he had any advice for the Ashley Madison management team, having gone through a serious hacking incident of his own, a Sony Pictures executive whispered, "Ashley Madison was hacked?" He followed up by repeatedly hitting his head on his desk and shouting, "Oh, come on!"

Number 2 (Never officially published in the blog, this comes from the proposal I sent to Tom in June, 2015)…

The Internet Is Like A Snowblower
The company Vivint wants to provide free WiFi to one household in a neighborhood in exchange for allowing the placement of three antennas on their roof to share that WiFi with up to 128 neighbors. The obvious question is… where was this kind of thinking when I bought my snowblower? Pretty sure my Husqvarna serves up to 128 leeches-ha! I mean neighbors-too. The difference is, I didn't get my snowblower for free. Oh, one Christmas a neighbor gave me a plate of cookies. Great-we're all square, neighborhood! Everyone has now pitched in equally to cover the $850 piece of machinery I bought and you all use! But I'll bet the cookies were great! I didn't actually eat them, despite hardly any visible cat hair. You bragged about your kids helping, and little Tina can't make a baloney sandwich without licking her fingers a couple dozen times, but hey, it's the thought that counts. You know what would be another good thought for the kiddies? If they thought about getting their ice skates off the sidewalk before you ran over them with my snowblower. No, you didn't mention that when you returned it, but I heard it and felt the blade-on-blade violence in my soul.

So I think I'll let Vivint give the free WiFi to a neighbor. I'll stream Game of Thrones on a different device in every room of my house, then when my connection gets wonky I'll just climb up and clomp around on their roof (maybe wearing ice skates) and wiggle the antenna to my heart's content.

Number 1 --
The New York Times ran a story in which former Amazon employees decried extremely stressful working conditions and unrealistic expectations. Others claimed they knew what they were getting into and the management style made them better workers. Where does the truth lie? I have no idea. But it's probably not this. (August 22, 2015)…

Amazon: River of Tears?
Based on comments by some former Amazon employees, I envision this typical Tuesday morning:
"Well, Janet, I really hate to do this, but we have to let you go. This is the second time in the last 24 months you've been late."
"But, it was only three minutes. And I was in a bad car accident."
"Well, that may be so, but you know our philosophy here at Amazon: Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable."
"But I live only fifteen minutes away and still I leave home an hour-and-a-half early to make sure I'm on time every day. It was the accident. It was an Amazon truck that hit me; it wasn't my fault. The paramedic said I should be in the hospital; he said I broke my leg in two places and there's a good chance I 'dented my brain' but I came to work instead."

"That's all well and good, Janet; I'm not saying I don't believe you–say, could you grab those? I think a few of your teeth landed on the corner of my desk… and here, have a couple more Kleenex, that nosebleed doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon."
"It's broken."
"Yes, I would have guessed, the angle it's at. Anyway, I'm sure you think you tried your best, but like our twelve-inch plush Talking Yoda–a Lightning Deal today at $16.99, with free two-day shipping for Prime members–would say, 'Do or do not. There is no try.' So, thanks for coming by; we've cleaned out your desk and Security will escort you to your car–or, I guess it's the bus stop, now, isn't it? And on your way, could you send Mr. Hibberd in? Guy's been here sixteen years; you'd think he'd know better than to put a photo of his kid up on his cubicle wall during work time. It's ironic, too–you'll find this funny, Janet–he gets fired just minutes after getting the $19.84 bonus for turning you in for being late."

And that brings our slightly skewed view of 2015 tech to a close. I hope you enjoyed these top ten stories as much the second time around (I know, that implies you enjoyed them the first time; welcome to 2016-The Year of Positive Thinking!).

Keeping that positivity in mind, I'm assuming many of you have been too busy during the hectic holiday season with your selfless shopping for others to do the thing you've been wanting to do for yourself-grab a copy of all 200+ WTVB stories (plus the complete "audition" issue that was never published) in The Internet is Like a Snowblower (And 200 Other Things I Got Wrong About Tech This Year).

Now that things have calmed down, here's your chance to get this Amazon-ranked collection of snarky misinformation ("You say 'Amazon-ranked' like it's something special. Isn't every book on their site 'Amazon-ranked'? Even if the rank is, like, 1,574,286th?" I get that question a lot. Let me explain it this way: Yes.).

Only $2.99? Heck yes, I want one! I'll just click here!

Happy New Year, and thanks, as always, for taking time to read these.  I hope you're back for more in 2016.

Mike Range

Weekly Tech Views Blog by Mike Range is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.