Here's a sampling of the year's stranger tech stories, with bonus conjecture and commentary. Happy New Year!
Thieves replace iPads with clay slabs
In January, scammers in Canada purchased several iPad 2 tablet computers, replaced them with clay slabs, then returned the $700 devices to retail stores for cash refunds. Police say the thieves carefully weighed each slab and resealed the original packaging.
The crazy part? Even though the fake iPads were nothing more than clay slabs, with no electronic parts whatsoever, they still outperformed tablets running the old Windows Vista OS.
Federal tax plan based on a video game?
During the early primaries, then-presidential candidate Herman Cain announced his “Solutions Revolution” campaign platform. Gamers quickly noted, however, that his “9-9-9” tax scheme was remarkably similar to a system in the urban planning simulation game Sim City 4, released in 2003.
Even scarier were reports that Cain's national defense platform was based on “Zombie Apocalypse: 2013” for the PlayStation 3. Hmm. Maybe Cain knows something we don't.
More zombie tech news: In March, the iPhone app “Zombies, Run!” made headlines for its unique approach to gadget-assisted fitness. Designed to be played while you're out running, the app features audio “missions” in which scripted bits motivate you to keep going. For example, by describing the zombies that are chasing you.
“Zombies” clearly hit the sweet spot with its target 40-something demographic, as suggested by the app's slogan: “Get Fit by Sublimating Your Unconscious Fear of Aging and Death.”
Tupac appears onstage via hologram technology
Thanks to some frankly amazing hologram technology, deceased hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur appeared onstage at the Coachella music festival in April. The ghostly MC greeted the crowd with “What's up, Coachella?” then and performed several songs in sync with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.
There were some technical glitches, though. After the first set, the Tupac hologram got stuck in a very familiar projection loop with a holographic R2-D2. “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” he concluded. “You're my only hope.”
Wallpaper blocks Wi-fi signals
In May, researchers in France announced they had developed a high-tech wallpaper that blocks Wi-Fi signals. The material, called metapaper, lets you selectively filter electromagnetic waves so that passersby and neighbors can't hijack your Wi-Fi access.
The wallpaper, still in prototype phase, will be marketed under the trade name, “Hey You Kids! Get Off My LAN!”
Researchers at MIT disclosed in August that they had created an indestructible autonomous earthworm robot using a mesh of nickel-titanium wire. The non-rigid construction means the worms are virtually indestructible. Highly disturbing video footage can be found here.
Clearly, “indestructible autonomous earthworm robot” are four words that should never appear in sequence. Are we really going to make the android revolution this easy?
Old Steve Jobs interview becomes feature film
“Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview” – a 1995 interview with the tech visionary while he was running the computer company NeXT – played in select theaters and was released to DVD in October. In a testament to Jobs' enduring popularity, the standalone 17-year-old interview found an audience among Apple's famously devoted fanatics.
The film also screened at the sold-out touring exhibit, “Steve Jobs: Lost Socks, 1974-1977.”
Facebook privacy overhaul lets users remove photos
Alternately, users can use the so-called Rewind option, in which your photos remain on Facebook, but all images are digitally adjusted to remove 10 years and 20 pounds.
Note: This was written by Glenn McDonald, a Digital Crave contributor.
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