"A question about the speculation on the next expansion; everyone thinks it will be either The Maelstrom or The Emerald Dream. How will we quest in The Maelstrom? Are we going to swim around all the time?"
We don't know. There was some aquatic mount rumblings when patch 3.1 was on the PTR, however that was mainly for the turtle mount you can get via fishing. It's completely possible there will be more underwater activities if the next expansion is The Maelstrom, as it would certainly fit the lore.
And if the next expansion is the Emerald Dream, I fully expect to be able to jump on a horned Night Elf and ride him around like a Caribou.
"With all the extended updates, restarts, etc., I was wondering does anyone know what it is that takes 12-14 hours to do each fortnight? It just seems like a very long time to need to have everything offline and I was genuinely curious to know roughly what happens during that time."
The servers are a gigantic group of computers working together with one another. Think of the tens of thousands of people who connect to a server every day. In the perfect world there'd need to be no restarts or maintenance on the servers, but the world is far from perfect. With that kind of load things fail and become worn out, needing to be replaced.
A lot of people say "Blizzard is making billions of dollars a year, why can't they get their servers to work?" Well, that's true. But those people who say that need to remember that no one else in the world is running an operation like Blizzard is. Google and Microsoft have things that are close, but search technology presents significantly different requirements on their servers than a constant input and output of game information to tens of thousands of players at once.
Blizzard uses maintenance time to refine their servers, replace hardware, make things work smoothly, and do other things that would otherwise hamper performance and stability if the realms were live. Web servers are commonly taken offline for maintenance, but you rarely ever notice it because other servers are there to jump right in. However with dynamic and ever changing game data on a truly massive scale, things like that are not always possible.
I also think there is a good and necessary psychological component to having the servers be offline; it forces people who would otherwise play non-stop to get out and have look at the real world. We all know people like that. Ensuring an interruption in their play schedule is a good thing.
"Should I gem to get the socket bonus?"
That depends on many factors. First and foremost there are one or two key stats that you want to focus on and get them to a minimum level. So gem for those stats until the minimum levels are reached. If you can be creative and get the socket bonus, great. If not, don't worry about it at all.
When you're at the minimum levels for key and critical stats, like hit or defense, then you can start to take a look at the socket bonus and compare and contrast what your overall stats would be like with and without the socket bonus in place. An example: your socket bonus gives you 100 more DPS when the gem you put in only gives you 50 more DPS. If you put in an off-color gem into the socket, you get 140 DPS but no socket bonus. The best option in that case is to put in the 50 DPS gem and get the 100 DPS socket bonus, because 150 DPS > 140 DPS. This is just an example, but it's the kind of calculations you'll need to make if you want your gear to be 100%. Most people do not achieve this level of gearing and just go for the maxing gem strategy where they use whatever gem will give them the most DPS / critical stat off the bat each time (ie: Warriors always stack stam gems).
"What is your favorite color?"
"What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"
What do you mean? African or European swallow?