Christmas adverts are weird

I realise the title of this post will probably draw in the anti-consumerism crowd, which is misleading since I love Christmas and (as a gadget reviewer) have a vested interest in its commercialisation. However, by mentioning it I’ve already skewed the Google ranking, so while I’m at it: Free iPad Air, Star Wars Episode VII leaked trailer, Miley Cyrus and cute cat videos. Anyway, my enjoyment of Christmas does not blind me to just how bizarre the elaborate seasonal adverts put out by high-street shops each year have become.

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iPad Mini Review

In 2010, Steve Jobs veraciously denounced the batch of 7-inch tablets being created by Apple’s competitors to fend off the iPad, bemoaning the sacrifice in usability that had to be made to cram it into the smaller chassis. Two years later, incumbent Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage to unveil the more diminutive iPad – the iPad Mini – that Jobs said should never happen. Was he right all along or has Cook found the formula to condense the iPad without compromise?

White iPad Mini

Strictly speaking, the iPad Mini rocks a 7.9-inch display, nearly a full inch larger than its competition: Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. The Mini is thinner and lighter than both rivals though bigger in other dimensions to accommodate the larger screen, home button and 1.2 megapixel camera on the front face. The 5 megapixel rear-camera is embedded in an aluminium aft which, while alluring, will probably show some battle scars before long.

Atop the Mini you’ll find the 3.5mm headphone jack and standby button, whilst the edges are clear of all but the volume rocker and lock switch. Between the dual speaker-grilles along the bottom sits the new proprietary “lightning” port that have been on all Apple devices since the iPhone 5. Other than being considerably smaller, the main benefit of this new connector is the ability to be plugged in either side-up, if you ever had trouble with that before.

Conspicuous is the lack of retina display, which may be a way to save cost, battery life or simply as an incentive to put into the next generation Mini. Nevertheless, its absence may be disappointing for those looking to use it to watch videos on the move and gives the Mini an overall underwhelming display than its less wallet-draining competitors.

Under the hood is Apple’s A5 chip clocked at 1GHz: notably less powerful than the A6 and A6X CPUs powering the latest generation iPhone and larger iPads. This may be another concession to bring down the cost or power consumption of the device. However, the Nexus 7 carries a faster quad-core NVidia chip and boasts the same 10-hour battery life, so this seems unnecessary.

Moving away from the hardware, the Mini runs iOS but with one crucial difference: thumb detection, which lets you use the multi-touch display when your thumb is resting on the screen without causing interference. Given the tiny bezel on either side of the display, this is a welcome feature and shows that Apple are putting real thought into the limitations of a smaller form factor. In terms of usability, it was surprisingly easy to type for prolonged periods, likely due to the slightly larger screen allowing the onscreen keyboard to be more spacious.

Green Smart Cover

The iPad Mini is available directly from Apple, priced at £269 for the 16GB model and scaling up to £429 for the 64GB storage. Tack another £100 if you want it to come with a 3G receiver. Like its commodious counterpart, the Mini can be decked out with a Smart Case cover (£35), though with only three folding segments on this version it doesn’t feel nearly as sturdy.

Apple seems to have taken pains to minimise compromising usability or design – two of Apple’s core principles – when coming up with the iPad Mini. Unfortunately, either a desire to reduce cost or to not show their hand too early means that unnecessary sacrifices have been made elsewhere. Time will tell if Apple has enough clout to sell the Mini despite its limitations, or if people will be drawn to the cheaper, more powerful Nexus 7.

Doctor Who – Series 7B Review

In the mid-Eighties, when the popularity of Doctor Who was waning and the show was awkwardly spluttering towards its eventual cancellation, new script editor Andrew Cartmel put together a plan to restore life to the show and mystery to the titular character: the eponymous Cartmel Masterplan. Whilst hints were dropped towards it, the “indefinite” hiatus of Who in 1989 meant that it was never fully realised on-screen.

The revival of the show in 2005 meant that they could start again, with references to an unseen war and a main character radically altered from the cravat-sporting fopp who’d last graced our screens. However, with ever-more candid references to the Time War, this enigma has also been gradually unwrapped to the point of becoming stale and the conclusion of Doctor Who’s seventh series seems to be the beginning of a shake-up. However, before we discuss that let’s look at the series as a whole.

the new tardis
I can’t help it, I bloody love this new TARDIS console!

The previous series saw Smith’s portrayal of the titular Doctor solidify, but it’s only now that the Ponds have been jettisoned that the differences between the Eleventh Doctor and his predecessor come into focus. This is probably helped by the gorgeous new look TARDIS console and the wider variations in what this Doctor wears (anchored by the bow-tie, naturally), but the latter half of this series definitely felt the most like Smith had finally become comfortable in the role. Hopefully, he will stick around for a long time to come so that this incarnation can gain the distinctness that Troughton, Baker (the bescarfed one) and Tennant enjoyed before him.

Though Moffat is often criticised for his cookie-cutter approach to writing female characters, the modern show has always established that a certain “type” of person is suitable for The Doctor to choose them as a companion. This leads to the erroneous claim that each companion is simply a rehash of the same character with a different backstory, but I think this is given the lie in the contrast between Amy and Clara. Whereas Amy wanted to constantly run away from her boring Leadworth life, leaving with the Doctor so quickly she didn’t even bother to get dressed and put off dealing with the consequences until her experiences with the Doctor gave her new focus and enabled her to get over the Raggedy Man and mature. Clara, on the other hand, is torn between her desire to travel (as seen in her book with her age crossed out) and the need to cling on to the memory of her mother, holding on to the leaf and inhabiting a maternal role as a nanny to similarly bereaved children. The fact that she doesn’t live in the TARDIS indicates that travelling with The Doctor allows her to fulfill both needs – going on adventures and back in time for tea.

clara's leaf
Page One

‘Asylum of the Daleks’ notwithstanding, the story arcs over the course of series seven can be nicely compartmentalised into their two parts: the long goodbye to the Ponds for the former half and the mystery of Clara for the latter. As in the Russell T Davies era, the story arc for the series is back to being a background feature of the run, bookended by its introduction at the start of the series and its payoff at the end. Personally, I liked that The Doctor didn’t spend all eight episodes constantly obsessing over Clara’s identity, but you could see it was on his mind enough to influence his choice of locations (such as seeking out the clairvoyant Emma Grayling in ‘Hide’) and never seemed entirely forgotten. The payoff was clever but not exactly hard to figure out, though I definitely didn’t think they’d have the stones to integrate JLC into archive footage in the way they did. Kudos to them on a brave but worthwhile (if somewhat ropey) attempt.

I suggested in my speculation on what would be seen in the anniversary special that it was unlikely we’d get full appearances from past Doctors and some form of trickery would be use to reference them. The finale of series seven has met the fan service obligation of showing past Doctors, and now the event itself is a little more free to call-back to the show’s history as part of its story, rather than for its own sake. Having seen John Hurt in set photos, it appears that the ending of the series is setting the stage for the anniversary special and I suspect that, rather than simply reference the show’s past, Moffat will use this episode to reveal hitherto unseen parts of the Doctor’s history. Other than the fact that he is (in some manner) The Doctor, the real identity of Hurt’s character in the pantheon remains to be seen.

time war book
So that’s Who…

I doubt it will be as clear-cut as Hurt is playing the true but disowned Ninth Doctor, shifting everyone after him down the line, as this will affect a lot of established continuity and Moffat even had Clara affirm Smith’s status as the Eleventh Doctor before the reveal. My prediction is that he’ll be some intermediate form between Eight and Nine – artificially forced into partially-regenerating by the Time Lords and manipulated into fighting a genocidal Time War, against his own nature – “without choice”. The Doctor has freely admitted his actions in ending the Time War already, so perhaps this incarnation broke free of the control of the corrupted Time Lords and ended it – “in the name of peace and sanity” – likely causing the completion of his regeneration. In doing so, he reclaimed the mantle of The Doctor and renewed his promise to help people. In all likelihood, this will come to be mere fanon when the truth comes out in November but I like the idea all the same.

When Cartmel conceived of his plan to renew the mystery around The Doctor, he aimed to retcon large parts of established canon by revealing that The Doctor was actually the reincarnation of one of the founding figures of Time Lord society. The Moffat Masterplan (as I’m calling it) seems to be doing much the same: overturning seemingly entrenched continuity to reveal more about the character, but deepening the mystery by the nature of what we learn and its implications. Of course, it won’t affect the overall premise of the show or the nature of the series going forward, but it will add new depth to the character and reinvigorate the mythos.

Still Got Legs

Because my final year project is the biggest piece of academic work I’ve ever had to do, it naturally attracts the biggest opportunities for procrastination. I’ve been meaning to switch my blog over to a new host and redesign its template since 2011 but only now that I’m in the deepest, darkest, deadliest parts of writing my dissertation does the deed demand my diversion.

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Hello (new) World

If you’re reading this, then I’ve successfully transferred my blog over to a new web host. Now all that remains is to find a template I like or build my own. Shiny!

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Speculationings

Though my self-imposed blogging exile is still in effect whilst I finish my dissertation and prepare for exams, I thought I’d air my thoughts on recent news surrounding Doctor Who since it’s a topic I know so intrinsically that this will require precious little additional research. This may also be a good place to mention that there are spoilers ahead, so if you’re avoiding hearing about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special then go away. This will also be a heavily speculative blog that may require detailed knowledge of NuWho continuity, I’ll explain where possible but be prepared.

The Eleven Doctors

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Legislating Defamation on Social Media

[This is a repost of a study paper I wrote for University at the end of last year, I wrote it much like I would a blog post but had to subject it to fiercely draconian editing to stay within the word limit so interested in how it compares to my normal stuff.]


Social media has irrevocably altered the way in which people view and react to content. Whereas newspapers and television broadcasts are decidedly one-way and controlled by a privileged few, the Web uniquely inverts this. Sites like Twitter and YouTube have empowered individuals to broadcast their content globally and, in turn, allowed others to directly respond and fuel discussion.

As with any emerging technology, the result has been a plethora of unprecedented legal cases that existing law has, at times, struggled to adapt to. One of the most prominent examples of this is defamation cases being brought against people for statements they’ve made online.


The origin of what became modern libel law contains language distinctly rooted in the context of newspapers [1]. The prohibitive cost of printing at the time meant that only companies selling newspapers for profit could afford to widely disperse information, so they have very strong business interests in avoiding costly litigation. Furthermore, the nature of hiring trained, professional journalists meant those responsible for cases of libel could be directly held to account. Although, due to the editorial influence the newspaper has, liability is more often considered to be with the owner of the publication itself than the writer [2].


Social media utterly democratised the ability to publish information to a large audience, from laconic micro-bloggers to “citizen journalists” presenting information as news.

At time of writing, the law for dealing with cases of defamation makes no distinction between a libellous statement made by a large mainstream newspaper and one made by a Twitter user with followers in the single-digits. In the eyes of the law, every single Twitter user is effectively a newspaper editor and thus subject to exactly the same regulation [3].

This approach is impractical for a number of reasons. Firstly, it fails to acknowledge that most social media users are regular people without any training or concept of media law. Secondly, it grossly overestimates the amount of damage to someone’s reputation the claims of most social media users can have, given the dilution effect caused by the volume of posts. Thirdly, it opens the floodgates for anyone to initiate expensive legal actions as merely a tool to censor even the mildest criticism.


Of course, libel laws have an important purpose: to protect people from having their reputation damaged by the broadcast of misinformation. Since social media websites are undeniably a broadcast medium, there is no defensible argument for giving it complete exemption from defamation regulation. There are examples of libel laws being appropriately applied when someone’s reputation is damaged by a statement made online [4][5].


However, in these cases the plaintiff and the defendant were of similar professional status. The former had a reputation to protect and the latter had enough of an online influence to genuinely damage it. Conventional libel suits require the claimant to prove damage to their reputation [6], but this hasn’t prevented public figures threatening legal action against social media users, regardless of follower count [7].

In the UK, even “re-tweeting” (the Twitter equivalent of attributed quoting) can make you liable to legal action [7]. Whereas, in the US, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants immunity to online users for quoting the aspersive claims of another [8].

It should also be acknowledged that not all social media users are equal. A defamatory statement from Stephen Fry (for example), with over 5 million followers, has a far greater likely proliferation than the vast majority of other Twitter users, with less than 50 [9].

The Crown Prosecution Service is currently developing interim guidelines that would take into account the “reach” of a social media user when deciding if offensive comment warrants conviction [10]. This could be applied to libel, since, in order to significantly damage someone’s reputation, the user making the claim must have a substantial “reach”. However, the interconnected nature of social networks means that a claim made by a low-reach user could be potentially proliferated amongst the entire network by others. As mentioned, each repetition is technically a separate libel, but the plaintiff will more likely pursue its originator. Nevertheless, acknowledgement that social media cannot be feasibly regulated by existing law is progress.


At time of writing, the Defamation Bill 2012 is being put through parliament to bring libel law more in line with the current socio-technological context [11][12]. Though the Bill may be modified in the coming weeks, its current form establishes that the offending comment must cause “serious harm” to the plaintiff’s reputation. However, what constitutes “serious harm” is ambiguous and subjective, therefore cannot be effectively proscribed in law. Furthermore, “serious harm” may be caused to reputation among low-reach social media users on a local level, but the context is not considered.

The Bill also introduces a “single publication rule” on published statements. Presently, though limitations exist on the actionable period from a libellous claim’s publication, the comment’s individual reprinting is considered an entirely new publication, thereby resetting the litigable clock [13]. The introduction of a single publication rule will ensure that attributed quoting of a mendacious statement is actionable only against the original speaker within the statute of limitation on its original publication. This effectively immunises people from facing legal action for retweeting.


Attempts to reform libel legislation to consider social media seem reluctant to acknowledge the many forms online libel can take. As we’ve seen, nebulous terms like “reach” still assume a strictly one-to-many relationship between speaker and audience. However, this is understandable in such a complex area. Social media evolves so rapidly that legislation too specific to its current incarnation will likely become outdated fast; whilst too vague legislation will be ineffective. A careful balance must be found, assuming one exists.


[1] “Libel and Registration Act,” 1881. [Online]. Available:
[Accessed 29 11 2012].

[2] A. Keen, “The Cult of Amateur: How Blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the Rest of Today’s User Generated Media are Killing Our Culture and Economy,” in Truth and Lies, Currency Press, 2007, p. 74.

[3] “Grayling warns Twitter users also face libel laws,” 14 11 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 30 11 2012].

[4] “Ex-cricketer Chirs Carins wins £90,000 libel damages,” BBC News, 26 03 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 30 11 2012].

[5] “Twitter libel: Caerphilly councillor pays rival £3000,” BBC News, 10 03 2011. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 29 11 2012].

[6] “Legal definition of ‘Libel’,” [Online]. Available: [Accessed 14 11 2012].

[7] A. Taylor, “Why A British Politician Is Planning To Sue ‘At Least’ 10,000 Twitter Users,” Business Insider, 19 11 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 6 12 2012].

[8] “US Communications Decency Act,” Cornell University Law School, 1 2 1996. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 5 12 2012].

[9] Beevolve, “An Exhaustive Study of Twitter Users Across the World,” 16 10 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 6 12 2012].

[10] C. Williams, “Unpopular Twitter accounts could escape prosecution for ‘grossly offensive’ tweets,” The Telegraph, 13 11 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 29 11 2012].

[11] “Defamation Bill 2012-13,” UK Parliament, 24 9 2012. [Online]. Available:
[Accessed 6 12 2012].

[12] “Defamation Bill 2012-13 (content),” 21 9 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 6 12 2012].

[13] R. A. Leflar, “The Single Publication Rule,” Rocky Mountain Law Review (Issue 3), p. 263, April 1953.

Top 12 Tech Headlines of 2012

It’d be easy to think that this has been a slow year tech-wise, since we’re still decidedly lacking the toys that optimistic science-fiction writers promised like a drunk Santa in a shopping centre. But despite the absence of hoverboards and robot butlers, it’s been a busy year in the tech world. Here’s my rundown of the biggest tech stories to grace RSS feeds this year.

1. Apple vs. Samsung
This year saw the patent war between Apple and Samsung erupt into all-out conflict, with the US courts ordering Samsung to pay a staggering $1 billion in damages for infringing Apple’s patents in several of its products. However, things didn’t end quite so well for JobsCo in the UK, ultimately resulting in Apple being ordered to issue apologies to Samsung…twice.

2. Windows 8, Phone and Surface
Microsoft have also been hard at work this year to make their mark on smartphones, partnering with companies like Nokia to host Windows Phone 8 in their devices, as well as tablets with the release of the Microsoft Surface. Not to mention the radical redesign to its Windows operating system, with a greater focus on touch usability and apps that was lacking in its predecessor.

Microsoft Surface RT

3. Apple without Jobs
All eyes were on the Cupertino-based company for its first full year without its charismatic founder Steve Jobs at the helm, since his return in 1997. New CEO Tim Cook promised that 2012 would “see a lot more of this kind of innovation” but Apple only updated existing product lines this year. A new version of OS X (Mountain Lion) along with new models of iPhone, iMac and iPad as well as the first 7-inch version, the iPad Mini, are nice but hardly innovative. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about the disastrous iOS 6 Maps debacle shortly.

4. SOPA and PIPA
Ostensibly as a way to fight online piracy, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) sought power to force search engines and ad-agencies to cut all ties to websites accused of copyright infringement. Various Web 2.0 sites, seeing the threat to their (mostly ad-supported) livelihoods, conducted “blackouts” in protest, during which their services were unavailable. The Bill was ultimately scrapped.

5. Facebook’s IPO
Despite resisting going public for many years, the monolithic social network Facebook finally launched its IPO back in May. Though expectations were high, technical problems on the first day and criticism of over-valuation meant that, in the eight months since, ZuckerCo has failed to surpass its $38/share starting price and, back in September, fell as low as half its initial value, according to Nasdaq data.

6. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and Fire HD
This year saw the release of Amazon’s first tablet computer, the Kindle Fire, in the UK along with its new HD counterpart. Sporting an Android OS skinned to drive users towards buying content, from which Amazon makes most of its money, its enticingly low-price has sparked the Fire’s hot sales. To advance the eReader lineage, the Paperwhite added a scarcely-needed light to the Kindle’s eInk display, just like a real book!

Kindle Paperwhite

7. Instagram’s billion
Instagram turned photo-sharing into a social experience in a way that Flickr and Picasa had failed to do: by offering rudimentary filter features to awaken the show-off hipster in all of us. Despite relative infancy and strong ties with Twitter, the photo-focused social network was snapped up by Facebook for a crisp $1 billion back in April.

8. Foxconn
Labour controversy erupted this year at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that manufactures many Apple devices as well as the Amazon Kindle and several well-known games consoles. A series of suicides by workers and reports of hazardous working conditions pressured Apple to request an audit by the Fair Labor Association, which found a number of compliance issues including uncompensated overtime and risks to employee health and safety.

9. Twitter Abuse
Between insults hurled at Tom Daley, libellous accusations about Lord McAlpine and offensive jokes on missing schoolgirls, this last year has shown off social media’s ugly side. How social media should be regulated, if it should at all, has been a much-debated issue with everyone from parents to free speech advocates to anti-bullying groups to bloggers weighing in.

10. Raspberry Pi
Amid growing calls to reform the teaching of ICT in UK schools with more technical content, the release of the long-awaited Raspberry Pi seemed like serendipitous timing. Developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the eponymous device is a small computer sporting an ARM processor and running the open-source operating system Linux. Shipping at £22 a slice, the Pi was developed as a cheap and easy way to teach hardware and programming to children.

Raspberry Pi

11. iOS 6 Maps
Apple’s attempt to oust Google Maps as the default maps application on iOS and replace it with their own backfired on them spectacularly. The September release of iOS 6 did away with several previously native Google apps in favour of Apple’s offering, most notably giving Apple Maps dominance. However, Maps came under so much criticism that Tim Cook posted an apology on the Apple website suggesting that people use third-party apps while they fix it.

12. AMD announced ARM chips
AMD announced this year that they would be releasing low-power server chips based on the ARM architecture in 2014. Having been one of the key drivers in the rise of x86 CISC processors, branching out with RISC-based ARM designs seems to be a bid to diversify and make up for ground lost to arch-rival Intel.

AppleCare on the NHS

Before Russell T Davies retconned their history so that they were created by Trigger from Only Fools and Horses, the original Cybermen on Doctor Who were humans who’d gone overboard augmenting their bodies with technology. In my vision of the future we’re still emotionless monstrosities, but with unnecessarily-glowing Apple logos embossed on our cold, metallic skin.


JobsCo haven’t quite gotten to the point of delving beneath human flesh, networking your nervous system and linking it to a proprietary port for which you have to buy a separate £39 cable just so you can play your iTunes purchases out of your coccyx. But if rumours that Apple are developing a “smart watch” are to be believed, then I can’t help but think it’s getting sinisterly close to the Apple Geniuses receiving surgical training and AppleCare coming on the NHS (which won’t make it any cheaper, by the way).

If true, which I doubt but I’ve been wrong before, then it would inevitably connect (exclusively) to an iPhone via Bluetooth, have a camera to allow Facetime and be controlled either by a touch-screen or Siri or both. The microphone on the iPhone has never been great, so unless you link a Bluetooth headset to a Bluetooth watch to a Bluetooth phone, you’d have to mutter into your wrist like you’re conspiring with your armhair to overthrow the Illuminati.

They wouldn’t be the first to try and bring out a “smart watch” (though I hope to God that’s not what we end up calling them), LG tried to persuade us that an entire phone strapped onto your carpus was a good idea back in 2009. They made lofty promises of “basic functionality” and “various clock faces” but sadly it never quite caught on. More recently, the Kickstarter-darling “Pebble” watch and Sony’s SmartWatch are at least being realistic by connecting to existing smartphone platforms rather than trying to overthrow the iPhone and Android giants with a concept device more niche than a Josef Fritzl fanclub.

iPod Nano in a wrist-strap, but still

The idea of watch-gadgetry has been around in fiction for a while: Dick Tracy, Secret Squirrel and Power Rangers all famously wore watches with (amongst other things) communicators. Whilst the idea is nifty, it’s always struck me as a prospect that wouldn’t work well in reality. For one thing, modern gadgets (particularly Apple devices) have a notorious scratch-rate and that’s just when it’s in a pocket, imagine what lacerations it’ll emerge with after a day in the open air. Even if you work a desk-job, proximity to coffee, hard-surfaces, blue-sky thinking or (worst of all) clichés would still afford it a scrape or two.

The screen would be so small that working out who’s calling you from the hopelessly-pixelated scaled photo would be like watching a bizarre witness-protection episode of Deal or No Deal. Their position as a highly sought-after device (which the Great Apple Publicity Machine would see to) would be incongruous with their nature as being visible and easily accessible, since it’d be easy for thieves to target people who were sporting one. Wrist-mounted tech seems about as practical to me as a marzipan sledgehammer.

Of course, practicality has never stood in Apple’s way when it comes to selling a product. In much the same way as trainers, mobile phones or regular watches (hereafter referred to as “caveman timepieces”, “Luddite chronometers” or “wrist sundials”), this gadget would be a fashion symbol first and a tool second.

But if people are willing to pay for it on the basis of branding alone, then why shouldn’t Apple take advantage? Though I may regret those words in five year’s time when I’m running down a corridor desperately spraying bullets behind me to escape a swarm of iCyborg and a mechanically resurrected Steve Jobs.

Excruciatingly typed on my new iPad Mini. Happy Christmas.