Tech wishlist for 2015

10. A Whatsapp client for Mac 

9. The Instagram app to allow multiple accounts

8. Twitter to let good developers use the APIs again (we love Tweetbot)

7. Apple Messages to play properly with SMS

6. The FT to make friends with Apple and release a native app

5. Zynga to fix the bugs in Words with Friends

4. An Apple TV app store

3. Pocket/Instapaper to allow offline video capture

2. iTunes to get a proper redesign

1. Things 3 to finally be released

MotU #6: Babel fishes, colour clocks and really secret santas

Stuff you knew you needed to know… and stuff you didn’t

What colour is it? 
Specific colours are described by hex numbers. This is a neat way to catalogue 16.7m possibilities in just six characters. But what colour is #063551? Wonder no more with this web clock that constantly changes its background to match the hex equivalent of the current time. Put it on your second monitor and see when it’s time for teal.  
 
 
Douglas Adams foresaw our tech future perhaps better than anyone else. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was itself a premonition of Wikipedia, and contained wondrous – but surely impossible – concepts such as the real-time translating Babel Fish. Well, hang on to your comfort towels because the resurgent post-Ballmer Microsoft has had a go a doing this with Skype Translator – described by some as the most futuristic thing I’ve ever used.   
 
Fascist dystopian iPad game of the week 
Papers Please really shouldn’t work. In this showy, freemium era, charging $8 for a totalitarian border guard sim with 8-bit graphics from the ZX Spectrum era sounds crazy. But the game works by disconcertingly putting you in the shoes of a lowly passport checker, making life-changing decisions under pressure whilst protecting your family. The moral dilemmas hit home hard.  
 
 
Privacy international has created a neat bit of content marketing to highlight issues of personal freedom in an era of government spying. Santa has been ordered to turn over his nice or naughty list and has discovered unsettling modifications to the children’ presents he’s delivering…  
 
Mails of the Unexpected will be back in the new year. Merry Xmas.

MotU #5: Beautiful, untranslatable words

Stuff you knew you needed to know… and stuff you didn’t

It’s probably testament to the dangers of pride, but aren’t we often told how wonderful English is, how rich it is, and how its speakers are the only ones who really get puns? That is, of course, nonsense. The human condition consists of far too dense a weave to be defined by any single language. This humbling incompleteness is demonstrated brilliantly by Lost in Translation: an illustrated catalog[ue] of beautiful untranslatable words from around the world. How many of us recognise the bittersweet pleasure of Trepverter? 

Coca-Cola is getting into milk. If this feels slightly startling, it’s worth remembering that the Real Thing does far more than just the Real thing. It’s already a market leader in carbonates, energy drinks and water. The nationwide launch of premium priced Fairlife is due next year. 
 
Still on the topic of beverages, can the colour of cups affect your perception of flavour? This coffee-tasting study suggests that it can. Apparently, that flat white will seem more bitter in a white cup. Smileys are taking over the world. Emojis, those colourful little characters we add to messages, have become so popular that the gatekeepers of text standards arehaving to evolve their thinking to keep up. Not only are there now more diverse characters available, but a new system will ensure the Unicode standard is quicker at responding to new suggestions. Check out the wonderful Emojipedia (yes, really) for the most requested new characters.

Blockchain is bigger than you think

Blockchain is looking like a seriously transformative technology – maybe as big an idea as http or bittorrent. 
 

Here’s a great primer. It looks techy, but is very readable.

 

Sample wow quote, “Companies like Ebay, Facebook and Uber are very valuable because they benefit tremendously from the network effects that come from keeping all user information in centralized in private silos and taking a cut of all the transactions. Decentralized protocols on top of the blockchain have the potential to undo every single part of the stacks that make these services valuable to consumers and investors. They can do this by, for example, creating common, decentralized data sets to which any one can plug into, and enabling peer to peer transactions powered by Bitcoin.”

 

MotU #4: Why we wear lucky pants

Stuff you knew you needed to know

Unfeasibly, there are people still watching Gangnam Style. So many in fact, that YouTube have had to update their view counter to 64 bits after after the video passed 2,147,483,647 views –  the largest integer presentable in 32 bits. The new max is a lasso-twirling nine quintillion. Op, op, op, op.

Microsoft closed the clipart library. What will leaden 60 page corporate decks be without 2D images of handshakes? Never forget – power corrupts, and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.

Google is getting rid of CAPTCHAs – those annoying identity checks where you have to re-type images of distorted text. Spambots have got too good at them, so they’ll be replaced by background algorithmic boffinry instead. Btw, did you know that CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart?

… and stuff you didn’t

The great glass elevator is real Remember Willy Wonka’s scary lift that could move up, down and sideways? Well, ThyssenKrupp, everyone’s favourite German multinational conglomerate, just announced a magnet-guided, ropeless system that will free architects from the tyranny of vertical shafts and open up options for very different building shapes.

One way that sci-fi movies convey a sense of otherness is through typefaces. Dave Addey did a quite beautiful teardown on 2001: A Space Odyssey earlier in the year and this fantastic look at the iconography of Alien has just, er, burst out of him.

Podcast of the week covers the Post Hoc fallacy and explains why pattern-matching humans can’t help linking up things that just shouldn’t be linked up (and how con men use it to rip us off). As no schoolboy these days knows, the full latin phrase is post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) but you can think of it as ‘why people wear lucky pants’.