Kurt Eichenwald has written a lengthy article about Microsoft's slow decline over the past 10 years, cataloging their missteps and showing how consistent, poor decision-making from management crippled the tech titan in several important industries. "By the dawn of the millennium, the hallways at Microsoft were no longer home to barefoot programmers in Hawaiian shirts working through nights and weekends toward a common goal of excellence; instead, life behind the thick corporate walls had become staid and brutish. Fiefdoms had taken root, and a mastery of internal politics emerged as key to career success. In those years Microsoft had stepped up its efforts to cripple competitors, but—because of a series of astonishingly foolish management decisions—the competitors being crippled were often co-workers at Microsoft, instead of other companies. Staffers were rewarded not just for doing well but for making sure that their colleagues failed. As a result, the company was consumed by an endless series of internal knife fights. Potential market-busting businesses—such as e-book and smartphone technology—were killed, derailed, or delayed amid bickering and power plays. That is the portrait of Microsoft depicted in interviews with dozens of current and former executives, as well as in thousands of pages of internal documents and legal records." We discussed a teaser for this piece earlier in the month — the full article has all the unpleasant details.
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The Megaupload case continues, and on Friday attorneys for the U.S. government made some interesting claims. They were in court to argue against a request to dismiss the indictment against Megaupload that was raised on the grounds that Megaupload has no U.S. address. After a debate about jurisdiction and precedent, this happened: "The government also argued that it could keep Megaupload in legal limbo indefinitely. 'None of the cases impose a time limit on service,' the government's attorney told the judge. Therefore, the government believes it can leave the indictment hanging over the company's head, and keep its assets frozen, indefinitely. Not only that, but the government believes it can continue to freeze Megaupload's assets and paralyze its operations even if the judge grants the motion to dismiss. That's because in the government's view, the assets are the proceeds of criminal activity and the prosecution against founder Kim Dotcom will still be pending. The fact that the assets are in the name of Megaupload rather than its founder is of no consequence, the government claimed."
In a follow-up to a story earlier this week, derekmead writes "Skype has gone under a number of updates and upgrades since it was bought by Microsoft last year, mostly in a bid to improve reliability. But according to a report by the Washington Post, Skype has also changed its system to make chat transcripts, as well as users' addresses and credit card numbers, more easily shared with authorities. As we've already seen with Facebook and Twitter, big Internet firms aren't digging their heels in against government requests, which shouldn't come as a shock; angering the authorities is bad business. The lesson then is that, while the Internet will always retain a vestige of its Wild West days, as companies get bigger and bigger, they're either going to play ball with governments or go the way of Kim Dotcom."
the_newsbeagle writes "The annual computer poker competition has just wrapped up, in which artificial intelligences battled each other over the (virtual) Texas Hold 'Em table. A researcher who worked on one of the top programs, the University of Alberta's "Hyperborean" program, has blogged about this year's competition and entrants for IEEE Spectrum. His first post explains the rules of the game and why it's tougher for a computer to win at poker than at chess; his second post describes Hyperborean's strategies, and the third gives the results and takes stock of Hyperborean's performance."
jfruh writes "Comcast customers who dream of superfast download speeds drooled when they heard the company would be offering 305 Mbps service. There's only one catch: the high speeds are only available in markets where the cable giant is going head-to-head with Verizon's FiOS service. It seems that competition really does improve service quality when it comes to ISPs."
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Have you noticed your Facebook stream or looked at reddit lately? A huge chunk of what goes by lately are photos with text over them, usually quotes about this or that. 'It's the Junkweb,' writes Chris Brogan. 'Why "junk?" Because the original intent of the Internet was that links were gold, that searchability was key, that this ability to find anything and use resources from wherever was magic. And this new web? The web of pictures with text over them? They're junk. They're a dead end. The picture is the payload.' Facebook and Pinterest are doing what so much of our 'awesome' tech hasn't been able to do well: let the everyperson into this universe. For whatever reason, the 'photos with text' experience gives us that feeling we get when we read magazines. 'It makes the texty text of blogging a lot less stark. It draws our eyes in. It's fast to consume, and it brings an emotional response faster.' Now with the release of Google's Panda search technology, it has been acknowledged that links and pages aren't everything and with Google+ goes the realization that it's no longer a links-only world. who shares is as important as how it's shared. 'I'm spending far more time on the Junkweb than I am on the Smartweb,' concludes Brogan. 'Deny it, if you want. The numbers show otherwise. We are in love with this new method of interacting.'"
nmpost writes with one interpretation of Netflix's Q2 results (PDF). From the article: "The beginning of the end may be at hand for Netflix. On Tuesday, the movie rental company posted its second quarter results, and they were not promising. While the company returned to profitability following a first quarter loss, Netflix had a 91% drop in net income. The company's troubles began when it attempted to split its DVD-by-mail and streaming services, effectively doubling the price it was charging customers. External forces are now beginning to weigh on the company, and its doom appears to be within sight. The biggest challenges facing Netflix over the coming months are going to be competition and licensing fees. Three huge companies are competing against Netflix in the streaming arena, which has already surpassed its DVD-by-mail business. Amazon, Apple, and Google all offer streaming content as well. As movie and television studios began to demand higher licensing fees, Netflix will not be able to pay, while these tech giants will. Netflix will eventually be priced out of the market." Engadget, on the other hand, shines some positive light on the report: "The results are in from its Q2 2012 earnings report, and it's claiming 27.56 million streaming subscribers worldwide, up from 26 million last quarter. In the US alone that includes 23.94 million customers, after it reported 23.4 million in Q1, while DVD customers dropped by 850k to 9.24 million." So it appears that Netflix is either gaining new streaming customers, or converting those expensive DVD customers into more lucrative streaming-only customers.
MrSeb writes with an excerpt from Extreme Tech about a presentation at Black Hat: "Bad news: With an Arduino microcontroller and a little bit of programming, it's possible for a hacker to gain instant, untraceable access to millions of key card-protected hotel rooms. This hack was demonstrated by Cody Brocious, a Mozilla software developer, at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. At risk are four million hotel rooms secured by Onity programmable key card locks. According to Brocious, who didn't disclose the hack to Onity before going public, there is no easy fix: There isn't a firmware upgrade — if hotels want to secure their guests, every single lock will have to be changed. I wish I could say that Brocious spent months on this hack, painstakingly reverse-engineering the Onity lock protocol, but the truth — as always, it seems — is far more depressing. 'With how stupidly simple this is, it wouldn't surprise me if a thousand other people have found this same vulnerability and sold it to other governments,' says Brocious. 'An intern at the NSA could find this in five minutes.'"
Hugh Pickens writes "Reuters reports that Apple shed more than five percent of its stock price value in after-hours trading after the company reported its second quarterly miss on results in less than a year, highlighting how the Apple brand is becoming less resistant to the economic and product cycles that have plagued rivals. 'Clearly it was a disappointment,' says Channing Smith, Co-Manager of Capital Advisors Growth Fund. 'We expected a lot of consumers will probably delay their upgrade and their purchases until the iPhone 5 comes out. We saw a similar trend occur last year with the iPhone 4S.' Executives acknowledged buyers were refraining from purchases because of 'rumors and speculation' around the iPhone 5, which sources have said will ship in September with a thinner and larger screen. 'The iPhone 5 is already the most hyped device and for it to exceed expectations is going to be really hard,' says BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis. This is one of many reasons Apple is so notoriously secretive. With the levels of hype that Apple product launches garner, it would undoubtedly crush its own sales if it announced products even months in advance. Instead, Apple slowly and silently draws down inventory in distribution channels, and then the upgraded product is available immediately (or nearly immediately) after it's announced. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, 'there is an incredible anticipation out there or for future products and as you would expect given what we've been able to deliver in the past.'"
dcsmith writes "Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier says, 'A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media,' and backs it up with a General Order to her Department. Quoting: The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity.'"
You asked questions about the LHC (and in particular, the believed discovery of the Higgs Boson) of physicist Giovanni Organtini. Organtini has responded (answers below), and written a brief introduction to explain what the Higgs boson is and how it provides mass to other particles: "The Higgs mechanism was introduced to explain the fact that experimentally particles have mass. In fact, without the Higgs mechanism, the equations of motion for particles can only be written for massless particles. The actual mechanism is rather difficult to understand without a solid Quantum Field Theory background, but can be understood as follows: most of you know that particles gain some energy when they interact with a field. As an example, consider a book on a table. Since the book is subject to the earth's gravitational field, it has some potential energy that transforms into kinetic energy if it is free to fall. The potential energy depends on the mass of the book and on the intensity of the gravitational field. With the introduction of Special Relativity, however, we have to add an extra term to the energy of the book depending on its mass only (the famous E=mc^2). Introducing a special field (the Higgs field), we can turn this term into something similar to the gravitational potential energy, i.e. something that contributes to the energy of the book because it interacts with a field. The mass of a particle, then, is nothing but its potential energy in the Higgs field. The Higgs field is auto-interacting, i.e. it interacts with itself, as the electric and magnetic fields do. As the electromagnetic field can, the Higgs field can also propagate through space, but since it's auto-interacting, it gains some energy from itself, as the book gains energy from the interaction with it, resulting in the appearance of a mass for such a field, that becomes observable as a particle called the Higgs boson. You can find a more formal, yet simple, explanation of the mechanism here." Read on for his answers to reader questions.
jfruh writes "Silicon Valley, including San Jose and the chain of suburbs running north from it along the San Francisco Peninsula, has long been the epicenter of the tech business and startup scene. San Francisco itself, just a few miles to the north, has always been in the Valley's orbit — but now, more and more, the center of gravity is shifting to San Francisco, and the move seems to be hitting a tipping point. The reason: the young talent companies want to attract would rather live in a hip city than in suburban sprawl, and don't want to commute 45 minutes to work."
TwobyTwo writes "Yesterday, Slashdot posted a piece titled Who Really Invented the Internet?. It quoted a Wall Street Journal article with the same title by Gordon Crovitz. Crovitz makes the claim that government research did not play a key role in driving the invention of the Internet, giving credit instead to Xerox PARC. Unfortunately, Crovitz' article is wrong on many specific points, and he's also wrong in his key conclusion about the government's role. In a wonderful piece in the LA Times Michael Hiltzik corrects the record. Hiltzik, who is the author of an excellent book about PARC called Dealers of Lightning, makes clear that government funded research was indeed the foundation for the Internet's success."
NormalVisual writes "When the Jack Daniels distillery recently became aware of a book whose cover they felt substantially infringed their trademark, they didn't go into instant 'Terminator mode' — instead, they wrote a very thoughtful, civil letter to the infringing party, and even offered to help defray the costs of coming into compliance. I believe plenty of other companies (and many in the tech world) could use this as an example of how *not* to alienate people and come off looking like a bunch of greedy jerks."