Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Apple Execs Apparently Can't Hold their Tequila

In a situation bizarrely similar to events that took place just last year, an Apple employee has once again misplaced an as of yet to be released version of the iPhone in a bar.

I'm not making this up. It's happened before.

Last year criminal charges were filed in San Mateo against a couple guys who apparently found another unreleased model iPhone in a bar and made arrangements to sell the prototype to the website Gizmodo.

This year's incident allegedly took place at a tequila bar in San Francisco's Mission District last month. Now anyone who knows the Mission will tell you that they've got good tequila there. Darn good, so Computers As Humans would advise that if you work at a tech firm and you're going out for shots after work, you leave the unreleased prototype at the office. In fact might I recommend that the good people at Apple consider implementing a policy of some sort in regard to these matters.

In the most recent case, Apple was able to electronically trace the lost device to someone in San Francisco but of course when confronted, they were all like, "Missing phone? What missing phone?" A report from the Associated Press inferred that the prototype was most likely sold in an online auction like eBay.

Well. . . good luck going in for an upgrade with that baby.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

China Tightens the Reins on Internet Firms

The Middle East uprisings have unnerved the Chinese government and authorities in Beijing are particularly attuned to the strong supporting role the Internet has played in recent unfoldings in Libya, Egypt and Syria. Popular uprisings have mandated major governmental changes and reforms in nearly a dozen different countries. Internet bulletin boards, message boards and social media have been a major factor in the events that unfolded during the so-called "Arab Spring," that it's no wonder the Chinese are spooked.

In what could be a prelude to a crackdown, Beijing Communist Party secretary Liu Qi, firmly instructed Internet firms in China to "strengthen management and firmly prevent the spread of fake and harmful information."

Currently there are some 485 million people currently using the Internet in China. Government search filters closely regulate much of the content these 485 million users can access. China's efforts to control what users view and create on the Internet has already ran them afoul of Google who closed up shop in China as a result.

But just as when you modify a car, you remove the regulator that keeps the speed under control, Chinese web-users are employing software applications that enable them to circumnavigate government Internet filters.

However a popular eCommerce platform has just informed its merchants that they will no longer be able to sell private network programs and other applications that can navigate around government filters on the site.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Technology Arms Race Heats Up

Nestled amidst today's distressing headlines about plummeting markets, Eurozone debt, falling mortgage rates, and other generally bad news, is a story about Google buying struggling mobile phone company Motorola.

Why you might ask would an Internet giant like Google splash out $12.5 billion to buy a company that last led the mobile phone industry when Charles In Charge was a TV hit? Simple: for the patents.

Patents have become the latest weapon in a technology arms race that is heating up between major industry players like Google, Microsoft and Apple. Motorola holds some 17,000 patents, which Google intends to use in order to create a kind of legal defense shield for companies like HTC and Samsung that use Google's Android operating system.

According to Boston University lecturer, James Bessen, patents have become "legal weapons," for technology companies. And unfortunately the tech firm arms race for patents has implications that can be connected to the sorry state of the markets today.

With most major tech firms in a highly litigious frame of mind, software engineers are devoting time and resources to writing patents and reworking existing products to avoid lawsuits, rather than designing new software and products. And when a company like Google will drop $12.5 billion on a company like Motorola, just to give itself legal cover, things don't bode well for independent entrepreneurs trying to innovate and break into the tech world. Lest us not forget that the tech world was founded on the ideas of independent innovators!

This potential hindrance on new innovation and development is bad for the tech industry and the economy as a whole. Unfortunately, it's not a new phenomenon. The patent legal arms race in technology can be traced back to the mid-1980s when then-struggling calculator manufacturer Texas Instruments, decided to see if it could make some money on its patents by suing companies that it alleged had infringed on them. The strategy worked so well it not only saved TI, it was later adopted by IBM when it ran into troubles ten years later.

Ironically, just as we fear old Soviet nuclear warheads could fall into the wrong hands, many tech watchers now fear that old tech patents could fall into the hands of "patent trolls." Patent trolls are essentially non-practicing corporate entities that wield patents solely for the purpose of filing lawsuits against those who allegedly infringe upon them.

Unfortunately the government is at present, not poised to do much in regard to the patent troll problem. While patent reform legislation is in the works, analysts say it will have little effect on the tech industry. It seems that the tech patent arms race is likely to continue in its escalation before the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Apple Tops the Charts Briefly

Markets around the world rebounded today, at least to a certain degree, from yesterday's plummet. In the midst of the rebound that saw the Dow rise some 429 points, Apple briefly surpassed Exxon to become the most valued company in the U.S.

Apple maintained its lead for a good portion of Tuesday afternoon before ultimately finishing the day just behind Exxon. The oil company giant's stock had gone down earlier in the day, which had allowed Apple to grab the lead.

In fairness, tech companies like Apple and Microsoft do hold an advantage over oil companies like Exxon. The growth of oil companies is to a large degree determined by factors like international oil prices and new oil being discovered. Apple, on the other hand, continues to produce enormously popular products like the iPad and the iPhone. The Cupertino-based company has been the tech industry's leading light for some time now, having surpassed Microsoft in 2010.

Gleacher & Co. analyst, Brian Marshall, perhaps put it best, when he said that "Exxon obviously sells a product that people need. Apple sells a product that people want." Although Apple has been around since 1976, according to Marshall, it's currently growing at the rate of a hot start-up.

A tech company taking over the top spot in the U.S. market is not necessarily a new development. Exxon and General Electric had been trading off for the no. 1 and no. 2 spots for years until 1999 when Microsoft leapfrogged them both at the height of the boom.

Microsoft held the top spot until the year 2000 when the crash allowed GE to recover ground and regain the top spot, which it mostly held until 2005, when it was usurped by Exxon.

However currently, Exxon and Apple are like two jockeys locked in a dead heat. Apple stock jumped 5.9 percent on Tuesday, giving it a market cap of $347 billion, just a half step behind Exxon's $348 billion cap.

But analysts are predicting that with their current momentum, Apple will get a nose out in front again and likely break away to lead the pack on a more long term basis.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Big One

The big one is here.

No, I'm not talking about earthquakes Californians; so don't go running to check on your disaster preparedness kits. I'm talking about cyber attacks, or more specifically, a cyber attack. A really big cyber attack that apparently went on for nearly five years and very probably originated in China.

Computer security firm McAfee issued a report today revealing that a massive, global cyber attack had succeeded in targeting more than 70 different governmental and private organizations. Apparently the attacks had been going on since 2006 without anyone's knowledge. The attacks are believed to have been launched by a nation state and although no names were named, the finger seems pointed in the general direction of China.

According to McAfee these attacks were directed at a wide variety of international organizations including the International Olympics Committee, the United Nations and several U.S. companies including the Associated Press.

McAfee's report also indicates that these attacks differ fundamentally from the recent wave of attacks perpetrated by self-proclaimed "hacktivist" groups like LulzSec and Anonymous. While those groups perpetrate high profile hacks meant to grab headlines, the attacks this report is centered on were carried out discretely for years and were designed to avoid being detected. Unlike Anonymous and LulzSec, these hackers weren't after publicity. They were after information, lots of it. And although the McAfee report doesn't delve too deeply into specifics, it would seem they were quite successful.

The report indicates the hackers were able to gain access to national secrets, source codes, negotiation plans and exploration reports for new oil and gas fields.

Of course what's a cyber attack without a cool nickname? This latest attack is no exception with McAfee having dubbed it, "Operation Shady RAT." RAT stands for remote access tool, which is a means hackers use of accessing computer networks remotely.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

NSA Launches Drive to Recruit Geeks

Step aside James Bond. Take a seat Jason Bourne. Yes, it's true that the government is stepping up their efforts to recruit elite agents with specialized skill-sets. However the NSA's current recruitment drive isn't intended to attract deadly killers capable of taking care of business in the field. No, currently the NSA is looking for computer hackers to add to its "collection of geeks."

Representatives from the National Security Agency, which is the cryptographic arm of the U.S. intelligence services, are apparently attending the Las Vegas hacker convention, DefCon, en masse in an effort to recruit the best and the brightest in hacker talent. Cybercrime and hacking in particular, have been on the rise in the past year. High profile hackings are now regularly reported on by major news outlets like CNN and hacker groups like Anonymous have practically become household names.

Certainly the U.S. government has taken notice. The NSA apparently plan to hire some 1,500 cyber warriors in the coming year. Apparently the NSA is of the opinion that it takes hackers to catch hackers. Jeff Moss, who in addition to being a founder of the DefCon conference also advises the Department of Homeland Security on cyber crime, is in agreement.

"They need people with the hacker skill set, the hacker mind set," Moss told Atlantic Wire. "It's not like you go to hacker university and get blessed with a badge that says your a hacker. It's a self-appointed label."

It's foreseeable that the super spies of tomorrow may forego carrying Walther PPKs and sipping martinis in favor of packing pocket protectors and downing extra large slurpees.