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Was that the 2007 that was?

Now let’s dumb down futurology too

Two article formats inevitably get rolled out at this time of year: the list of predictions for the next twelve months, and the answers to the seasonal topical quiz (which was printed in late December as a filler in the absence of any news and to enable us journalists to spend a few precious Yuletide days in the environs of the Rat and Rootkit).

In a nod to the Royal Society for the Preservation of Bandwidth, I have cleverly combined these two genres. Here are the answers to the 2007’s Christmas Quiz.

1. ‘BBC12’, which was the surprise smash of the TV year. BBC12 is the new Freeview channel devoted to showing popular arts documentaries that do not feature Kim Newman as a pundit. ‘This success has taken us completely on the back foot,’ said a BBC backfootsperson. ‘It never occurred to us that some people might wonder why Newman’s views on Robots in Science Fiction, British TV Beefcake of the 1970s, MR James and John Wyndham are constantly served up as though he were an authority of some sort in these matters, and might further consider Newman’s moustache an offence against facial topiary. Although such individuals are obviously very wrong and damaged, we feel we should try to reach out to them under the terms of the charter.’ The corporation now plans to expand its portfolio in 2008 with a science, computing and robotics channel devoted to programmes not featuring Prof Kevin ‘Captain Cyborg’ Warwick of Reading University.

2. This was the week that American ‘close up’ magician David Blaine met his Waterloo. Blaine’s attempted feat, superficially straightforward, was to feed himself for four weeks only with groceries purchased at the Tesco Metro at Aylesbury, using a Visa debit card and an account containing £20,000. What made the challenge particularly tricky, of course, was that this branch contained only the latest, cashier-free customer-operated EPOS equipment. There were no conventional tills at all. The clip of Blaine that brought down the mighty YouTube itself under the strain of download traffic was the one of him scanning an Tesco Own Brand Porky Pie on the barcode reader, then punching the Aisle 2 machine in its touchscreen as it smugly announced ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’ for the 437th consecutive time. However, the winner of the Marcus Brigstocke award was the scene where, under pressure of starvation, Blaine completely loses it, grabs a packet of Walkers Revised Recipe Cheese and Onion and makes a dash for the door – only to be apprehended and dragged away, weeping pathetically, by the only remaining human employee of the branch: the security guy.

3. Google, which was rather surprised to find itself, according to an opinion poll, perceived as more sinister even than Microsoft. Commentators speculated that the dive in Google’s popularity was caused by the launch of the search engine, a tracking service to specialists in family law which for the first time allowed access to Google’s complete database of all searches ever made cross-indexed against querying IP addresses. The barn upon which the ten Google commandments had been written up was hastily re-examined, and it turned out that we had all misremembered its content. It turns out that there was only one enigmatic directive, which said:


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4. The last Zune owner of all, who deliberately dropped her diePod on the road and drove over it in her car six times, finally casting the digital media player’s mangled remains into the sea off the end of the North Pier at Blackpool. Interviewed later in the year, she appeared partially to regret her extreme actions, commenting: ‘At least it was better than Vista’.

5. The surprising answer is d) D, that is to say Walter Bright’s D programming language. The ex-Zortech compiler guru had been quietly assembling his creature for several years, working alone in his secret laboratory in a cave high up on Curly Brackets mountain. In 2007, he finally got his electrical storm (to take this Frankenstein metaphor too far), when somebody noticed that at the Computer Language Shootout Benchmarks, D’s performance outstripped other OO languages – whether interpretive Python and Javascript, virtual machined C# or compiled C++ – and indeed pretty well everything else except raw C. All this while supplying in-built strings, garbage collection, template metaprogramming and many other modern linguistic trinkets. Despite loud cries from the usual interested parties that the benchmarks were unfair, unrepresentative etc, D ‘took on’ in a big way in 2007, and is threatening to outflank the increasingly morbid Java.

6. The odd ones out are ‘DevCo’, ‘CodeGear’, ‘Inprise’ and ‘Borland’. The others are all new names adopted by the company at some point during 2007.

7. The judge in the SCO versus IBM case, at last brought to a conclusion in September. His ruling took the world somewhat by surprise: that SCO was quite correct and justified in all respects, that not only should IBM pony up but that everybody who had ever used Linux owed Darl $350 each, and that all extant kernel developers should have ‘whuser luser now?’ tatooed back-to-front for ease of reading in a mirror on their foreheads. Apart from anything else, it had not been realised, at least by those too young to remember the terrifying rise to power of Little Jimmy Osmond, that Utah District Court enjoyed such a wide and sweeping jurisdiction.

8. A trick question. There were, of course, no government IT projects that didn’t overrun on both time and budget in 2007.

9. The pilot ID card scheme, whose first ‘volunteers’ were cleverly induced to harvest themselves for the new database by dint of a ‘petition’ on the government website The justification given was that the ID card objectors were obviously people with something to hide (for why else would they object?) and as such exactly the bad lot that should be monitored most closely. ‘Besides,’ chortled the Hom. Sec. du jour whose name we can’t remember, ‘if they had troubled to read the privacy policy they would have known what was coming.’ Sure enough, when everybody went back to look, the website warned petitioners ‘we may need to pass your details to the relevant Government department to enable them to respond to the issues you raise’. And how.

10 This was the leak of French president Jacques Chirac’s private papers that made it clear that the Euro-search engine project Quaero had been primarily been conceived as a response to the venerable Googlebomb gag ‘french military victories’. This cryogenically preserved jibe had for many years apparently being chafing M. Chirac more than he cared to admit. The leak fatally queered Quaero’s pitch, and the fiasco has now been filed in the same pigeonhole as all similar show-offy Gallic dodges that we have had to put up with over the years, such as claiming that the Greenwich meridian passed through Paris, or pretending that it is big or clever to eat horses, or being better than us at sex.®

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