The 11 Stupidest Moments in Tech for 2008

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A Few Hiccups in Political Tech This Year

In tech terms, 2008 was a bad year for the Republicans. While the Obama campaign was rewriting the rules for campaigning and fund-raising on the Web, John McCain and his people made one gaffe after another. The first came when Mr. McCain himself cemented his "out-of-touch old guy" image by admitting that he didn't use a computer and hadn't much need for e-mail either. Not that he wasn't trying: "I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself," McCain told the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Republican nominee's running mate, Sarah Palin, hewed to the campaign's Luddite theme by conducting official business via her private Yahoo Mail account--an account that an interloper hacked into. Some of her e-mail messages were published on a Web site called Wikileaks.

Later, in the heat of the campaign, McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin credited his boss with having brought the BlackBerry into being. What McCain really had done was some work in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that arguably helped create market conditions in which the BlackBerry thrived. But why split hairs?

Matters grew even dicier when the GOP decided to sell off the computers and smart phones that the McCain campaign had provided to staffers for use during the campaign. Problem was, the McCain folks forgot to wipe the data from some of the BlackBerry phones it sold, and several went out the door with sensitive information still on them, including the phone numbers of several prominent political figures who had worked with the campaign.

Obama's campaign wasn't perfect either. The nominee's attempt to be the first candidate in history to announce his choice for vice president via text message, uh, failed. The announcement that Joe Biden was the guy went out in the middle of the night on August 24, but not before the news had been leaked to and reported by CNN reporter John King.

Princess Leia Reporting From Chicago for CNN

CNN claimed a breakthrough on election night by "beaming in" a 3D image of reporter Jessica Yellin to a CNN studio in New York to talk to commentator Wolf Blitzer. You know, like in Star Wars. Yellin spent half of her air time going on about how it worked and how cool it was, explaining that she was actually inside a tent in Chicago's Grant Park where 35 cameras spun around her taking images that were processed by 20 computers.

But it wasn't really a hologram. Rather, Yellin's image was simply overlaid on top of the CNN broadcast feed. When Blitzer stood in the New York studio and said "You're a terrific hologram," he was talking to thin air.

The Year in iPhone Apps

Apple won't sell just any piece-of-crap iPhone app at its App Store. Still, a couple of things in 2008 left me a little confused about the vetting process used to decide which apps make it in and which don't. On the one hand, you can buy Cow Toss, an app for your iPhone that lets you throw cows around the device's screen. But on the other, you can't buy iBoobs, perhaps the best use of the iPhone's accelerometer feature I've seen to date.

Never mind, though. You can still buy an app called Hold On, whose sole purpose is to time how long you can keep your fingertip pressed on a large white button on a red screen.

For a while there, the App Store was selling an application called I Am Rich, which sold for--get this--$1000. The app did basically nothing other than plant a red jewel thing on the iPhone's menu screen, sending to all the world the message (as creator Armin Heinrich puts it) that "I can afford to buy a $1000 iPhone app" or (maybe more likely) "I am profoundly stupid." Yet something like eight people set aside their Neiman Marcus catalogs long enough to purchase the app--a bargain at one-third the price of a limited-edition Jay Strongwater Nutcracker Figurine. Developer Heinrich told the Los Angeles Times that he earned $5880 for his trouble, while Apple snapped up a tidy $2520, its standard 30 percent cut of app sales.

Effective Employee Relations During Difficult Times

In perhaps the e-mail dummheit of the year, the media consulting firm Carat accidentally shared with its employees both the news of impending layoffs, and the cool and calculated ways it intended to communicate them. The e-mail message, which was intended only for senior managers, included a PowerPoint slide show with talking points (obtained by AdAge). From the talking points:

"If you would like to go home today and come back tomorrow to clean out your desk or office, you are free to do so. We would like you to meet with your manager following our meeting to transition your work. We will be communicating to your team today. Your manager will be contacting clients. We ask that you do not contact your clients to discuss this situation."

The e-mail was sent out by Carat's top HR exec in New York. I can only imagine the scene: panic, screaming, high heels running down a well-appointed hallway toward the IT office. The company's IT department tried to pull back the wayward e-mail, but failed.

And On and On...Until Next Year

So that's about all the dopey tech moments I could remember from 2008. I'm sure I've neglected a few good ones, so please chime in in the Comments section to relive some more special moments from 2008. At this point 2009 looks like it's going to be a tough year in tech (and everywhere else), but here's hoping that we can have a few laughs along the way, and that it's not all gallows humor. Happy New Year, everybody.

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