20 May, 2012



Pakistan blocks Twitter over ‘blasphemous’ Muhammad drawings

Posted: 20 May 2012 08:36 AM PDT


Social networking service Twitter has been blocked in Pakistan after the site refused to remove tweets concerning “blasphemous” Muhammad cartoons, according to Pakistan’s Express Tribune.

Twitter was targeted by the Pakistani government after some users organized a competition for people to draw the Prophet Mohammed, something that many Muslims consider blasphemous. Pakistan reportedly asked Twitter officials to stop tweets about the Prophet Muhammad, but “Twitter refused our request,” Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Mohammad Yaseen told the Express Tribune. Yaseen said that once Twitter removes the offending tweets, Twitter will be unblocked.

The Associated Press reports that Facebook complied with Pakistan’s requests about the competition. Facebook site was banned briefly in Pakistan about two years ago for refusing to remove a similar user-created contest. After two weeks, it eventually complied and removed the offending content.

A Pakistani government official claimed yesterday (on Twitter!) that Facebook and Twitter would not be blocked, saying, “Dear all, I assure u that Twitter and FB will continue in our country and it will not be blocked. Pl do not believe in rumors.”

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, criticized the move to block Twitter, saying it hindered users’ right to free speech.

"The government of Pakistan's ban on Twitter is ill-advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be," Hasan said, in a statement. "The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech."

Officials from Twitter and Facebook did not immediately respond to us with request for comment about the ongoing event.

Photo credit: Andreas Eldh/Flickr

Filed under: social

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Ever-busy Zuckerberg marries sweetheart the day after Facebook IPO

Posted: 20 May 2012 06:49 AM PDT


As if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t busy enough readying his company to go public this past week, he also somehow found time to marry long-time sweetheart Priscilla Chan yesterday.

Social networking titan Facebook went public Friday in the largest tech IPO in history. While the stock disappointed many analysts and social media enthusiasts by closing 9.5 percent down from its opening price, it still remained above the original offering price of $38 a share. Now Facebook will face a new level of scrutiny as it continues monetize its 900-million-strong user base.

But even with all the Facebook IPO madness, Zuckerberg and Chan got married yesterday at Zuckerberg’s home in Palo Alto, Calif. The couple was surrounded by 100 guests who thought they were there to attend a party for Chan’s graduation from University of California’s medical school. Instead of a hoodie, Zuckerberg dressed in a slick suit and tie, while Chan wore a white wedding dress.

A guest of the wedding claims that the couple had always planned to get married right after Chan finished medical school and the timing with the IPO was coincidental, according to the Associated Press. Zuckerberg gave Chan a ring he had made with a “simple ruby” although he could have easily bought her one of the world’s most expensive diamond rings if he wanted.

We wish Zuckerberg the best on his journey with his lovely new wife. While he may not be able to fix any future relationship problems with an all-night hackathon or an algorithm change, we’re sure he’ll figure it out. Congrats Zuck!

Read more about Facebook:

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Would Facebook’s IPO have been bigger if it went with New York Stock Exchange?

Posted: 19 May 2012 03:45 PM PDT

The all-computer run NASDAQ could be to blame for a lack of a Facebook stock pop Friday, when the social network started its first day of trading. Orders flooded in for the stock, but overwhelmed computers and glitches slowed trading down because stock orders couldn’t be processed, leaving investors wonder if their orders had gone through. If Facebook had gone with the New York Stock exchange, where there are redundant backup systems, it might have been a different story.

By now you know that Facebook’s stock didn’t pop in its first day of trading, closing the day at $38.06. Reports emerged yesterday that trading didn’t begin until 11:30 EDT because of computer glitches on the NASDAQ. Investors were left waiting for computer confirmation on their orders and the price they paid for the stock. The NASDAQ’s automated system relies completely on computers that are supposed to be faster and more efficient than human traders.

On the New York Stock Exchange computers run the show as well, but human traders work as a backup. If the computers slow down or crash, real people keep the trading going and can tell you immediately the status of your order and the price of your stock.

Keith Bliss from Cuttone & Co. explained the human trading system on the NYSE in an interview with Bloomberg:

“There is no redundancy inside their (the NASDAQ) market so they’re solely dependent on the computers being able to handle…what’s happening not only inside of the market, but also inside an IPO. Down here on the New York Stock Exchange, we have redundant systems and the redundant systems are the human-based traders who can have an open outcry auction market. If the systems go down, we can get the stock open and get orders into the market, they can execute them and can give you a report immediately.”

In Silicon Valley, we keep hearing that computers are getting closer to replacing humans as processors get more powerful. Researchers are continuing to work towards the singularity, in which we create computers that are smarter than humans (and probably more powerful too — cue a robot uprising).

While it will be decades, if not hundreds of years, before a computer has even close to processing power of the human brain, leaders in the industry are praising computers as faster and smarter than human beings. It’s ironic then that the largest tech IPO in U.S. history may have been hurt by computer-based system.

Do you think if Facebook had chosen the New York Stock Exchange for its IPO that it would have done better? Answer the poll and sound off in the comments.

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Google’s acquisition of Motorola gets the go-ahead from Chinese government

Posted: 19 May 2012 11:43 AM PDT

Google Motorola merger approved by ChinaChinese antitrust and competition authorities have approved Google’s deal to purchase Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion dollars, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. The merger, which was announced nine months ago in August 2011, will likely close next week.

China was the last regulatory hold-out to approve the merger, which was approved by the United States Department of Justice and European Union regulators in February 2012. Now that China has given the go-ahead, the deal can be finalized. Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick confirmed the news, according to the Associated Press.

Antitrust issues were a major reason that regulatory boards had to mull over before approving the deal. Mainly, there were concerns that Motorola would be given preferential treatment for the Android operating system, which runs on Motorola devices. New updates or brand new versions of Android might go directly to Motorola, while taking much longer to reach other smartphone manufactures.

Google defended itself saying it has no intentions of giving Motorola special treatment over other Android-running OEMs such as HTC, Samsung, and LG. Apparently the argument was enough for Google it get over all of the regulatory hurdles it needed to close the deal.

Google is interested in purchasing Motorola mostly for its patents. Motorola holds 17,000 patents and 6,800 pending patent applications, many related to smartphone technology. Now that Google is duking it out in court with Oracle over Java-related patents, its more important than ever for Google to have a large patent shield so it can defend itself against future Android lawsuits.

Google lego sign image via Flickr user Simon Law

Filed under: mobile

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Pets.com and Midwestern moms: Another look at what happened to Facebook

Posted: 19 May 2012 10:36 AM PDT

Hoo boy, anything tech-related that happened over this past week was dwarfed into oblivion by Facebook’s IPO.

Many of us were expecting a glorious event with massive profits for early shareholders, but the day’s events ended in disappointment.

The stock closed at just over $38 — exactly Facebook’s original offering price. In fact, NASDAQ revealed that the deal’s underwriters had to make supporting bids to keep the price from dipping below the $38 mark.

Also, unexpectedly low figures for Facebook’s share price led to a price slump for other tech stocks, as well. Zynga had a NASDAQ-mandated halt in trading not once but twice during the day when it fell by more than 10 percent.

“Ouch” doesn’t begin to cover it.

Still, there’s hope. We’re just at the beginning, and the mainstream market’s lack of faith in Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re heading for another dotcom-esque bust. My mom said so.

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Silicon Valley needs humanities students

Posted: 19 May 2012 10:30 AM PDT

Getting a humanities degree might actually help you get a better job in technology

Quit your technology job. Get a Ph.D in the humanities. That's the way to get ahead in the technology sector. That, at least, is what philosopher Damon Horowitz told a crowd of attendees at the BiblioTech Conference at Stanford University in 2011.

Horowitz is also a serial entrepreneur who co-founded a company, Aardvark, which sold to Google for $50 million. He is presently the In-House Philosopher / Director of Engineering at Google. Wait, you say, that's insane. At a time when record numbers of people, among them those with high-level degrees, are receiving public assistance, what kind of fool would get a degree in a subject with no clear job prospects beyond higher education or teaching?

In Silicon Valley, engineers are honor students and everyone else is taking remedial math. Venture capitalists often express disdain for startup CEOs who are not engineers. Silicon Valley parents send their kids to college expecting them to major in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) discipline. The theory goes as follows: STEM degree holders will get higher pay upon graduation and get a leg up in the career sprint.

The trouble is that theory is wrong. In 2008, my research team at Duke and Harvard surveyed652 U.S.-born chief executive officers and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies. We found that they tended to be highly educated: 92 percent held bachelor's degrees, and 47 percent held higher degrees. But only 37 percent held degrees in engineering or computer technology, and just two percent held them in mathematics. The rest have degrees in fields as diverse as business, accounting, finance, healthcare, arts, and the humanities.

Yes, gaining a degree made a big difference in the sales and employment of the company that a founder started. But the field that the degree was in was not a significant factor. Over the past two years, I have interviewed the founders of more than 300 Silicon Valley startups. The most common traits I have observed are a passion to change the world and the confidence to defy the odds and succeed.

Any discussion of this nature must return to a comparison of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. True, Jobs was technically competent. But he had, if anything, an eclectic educational background where he spent as much time in seeming arcana such as philosophy and calligraphy as he did on math and engineering.

I'd take that a step further. I believe humanity majors make the best project managers, the best product managers, and, ultimately, the most visionary technology leaders. The reason is simple. Technologists and engineers focus on features and too often get wrapped up in elements that may be cool for geeks but are useless for most people. In contrast, humanities majors can more easily focus on people and how they interact with technology. A history major who has studied the Enlightenment or the rise and fall of the Roman Empire may be more likely to understand the human elements of technology. She may more readily understand how ease of use and design can make the difference between an interesting historical footnote and a world-changing technology. A psychologist is more likely to know how to motivate people or to understand what users want.

This brings me back to Damon Horowitz. He was a highly accomplished artificial intelligence (AI) researcher with a master's degree from MIT. Damon was in hot demand, making big bucks and founding companies, several of which were acquired for nice, tidy sums. The trouble was, he realized his work was not actually solving the underlying problems of AI in any meaningful way. Damon felt he didn't understand the philosophy of intelligence and human thought well enough to get beyond the beautiful, "intoxicating" prison of computer code he lived in.

So Horowitz quit his tech job and went to Stanford to get his doctorate in philosophy. He was amazed at how much he had to learn. For Horowitz, going back was a transformational shift that opened his eyes not only to key foundational arguments and theories about the nature of intelligence, but it also gave him improved capabilities in strategic vision, creative problem solving and other critical traits. Horowitz believes his degree helped him envision Aardvark, which was an interesting hybrid search system that involved people sending out queries to fellow users who were connected through an automated interface that helped askers properly shape and target their questions.

Don't get me wrong. The world needs engineers. And no, I am not actually advising people to quit their jobs and get Ph.Ds in philosophy. For some people, it might make sense, but for others it wouldn't. The point I'm trying to get across is more nuanced: We need musicians, artists, and psychologists, as much as we need biomedical engineers and computer programmers.

For tech entrepreneurs and managers, there is no "right" major or field of study. While having a degree in slinging code may present a short-term advantage at startup time, it may comprise an equally important disadvantage if the degree came at the cost of other critical "soft leadership" skills required to focus, lead and grow companies. So, it's time for Silicon Valley to get over its obsession with engineers. And, if you run a startup, hire that psychology Ph.D. You may get a lot more than you bargained for.

Wadhwa is a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University and is affiliated with several other universities. Read more about Vivek Wadhwa's affiliations.

Originally published on WashingtonPost.com.

Photo credit: mararie/Flickr

Filed under: Entrepreneur

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No liftoff for SpaceX: Launch aborted early Saturday

Posted: 19 May 2012 09:45 AM PDT

SpaceX aborts Falcon 9 rocket launch

The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket came to an abrupt halt early Saturday. The rocket’s computer detected too-high levels of pressure in engine number five, causing the launch to stop a half-second before liftoff.

The Falcon 9 rocket held cargo destined for the International Space Station (ISS) and was scheduled for liftoff at 4:55 a.m. EDT Saturday morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Had it taken off, it would have been the first commercial rocket to dock with the ISS.

Just after 2:01 am PDT (5:01 am EDT) SpaceX tweeted ”Launch aborted.” A few minutes later SpaceX c0-founder Elon Musk tweeted ”Launch aborted: slightly high combustion chamber pressure on engine 5. Will adjust limits for countdown in a few days.” The engine problems came as a surprise to NASA commentator George Diller who was announcing the countdown.

“Five, four, three, two, one, zero and lift…off. We’ve had a cutoff. Liftoff did not occur. We’ve had a launch abort.” Diller said in rapid succesion.

According to NASA, the next opportunity for the Falcon 9 rocket to take off is Tuesday May 22 or May 23. The engine will be inspected before another launch is scheduled.

SpaceX Falcon 9 static fire test

Saturday’s mission was a demonstration launch intended to prove to NASA that SpaceX’s rocket can replace the now-retired Space Shuttles. The Space Shuttles mostly served as cargo ships to transport supplies to and from the ISS. Due to budgetary constrictions, NASA had to end the 30-year Space Shuttle mission run.

The engine hiccup hasn’t hurt SpaceX’s reputation yet, but the pressure is on for SpaceX to prove its rocket launches are safe. If the company ever wants to send humans into space, it will need a strong track-record of safe unmanned flights.

SpaceX is a commercial company hoping to eventually send humans into space for a fee, but for now it’s starting with sending cargo into space. The company currently holds a $1.6 billion contract to send supplies to the ISS.

Falcon 9 launch image via NASA TV

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How were these Silicon Valley VCs so wrong about Facebook’s IPO?

Posted: 19 May 2012 09:35 AM PDT

Before Friday, almost every Silicon Valley insider was saying Facebook stock would finish its first day between $50 and $60 per share.

In reality, the share price at the closing bell was a pathetic $38.37.

How were these masters of the universe — some of them the most powerful investors on the West Coast — so woefully inaccurate in their predictions?

Facebook closing price predictions were coming in fast and furious over the past several weeks, but as Facebook’s pre-trading pop fizzled, estimates dwindled lower and lower.

Still, few thought the price would dip as low as it did — almost a full $4 below the $42 opening price and just 37 cents higher than Facebook’s offering price.

Here’s a graph we made to name and shame (just kidding … sorta) those who aimed way, way too high on Facebook’s value in the open market.

If you don’t recognize the last names, you probably don’t have your head deep enough inside the navel of startup culture, in which case, good for you! If you’re still curious, they are, from left to right:

  • Lars Hinrichs, Xing founder, predicting $45
  • Michael Yavonditte, FF Ventures partner, $49
  • Chris Dixon, angel investor, $50
  • Josh Felser, Freestyle Capital founder, $50
  • Shakil Khan, Spotify investor, $50
  • Jason Calacanis, serial entrepreneur and investor, $52
  • Chris Sacca, Lowercase Capital founder, $56
  • Josh Kopelman, First Round partner, $57
  • Ryan Sarver, Twitter dev guru, not an actual investor, $60
  • Shervin Pishevar, Menlo Ventures partner, $63

Interestingly, in the week before the IPO, all the Wall Street analyst types we talked to were not nearly as optimistic as their tech-obsessed counterparts on the West Coast. As the opening bell rang, we published their conservative estimates — low $40s, maybe $44 by the end of the year.

Of all the Valley dudes and dudettes we called, however, only one man gave an accurate estimate of Facebook’s closing price. Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of this guess-how-many-jellybeans-are-in-Facebook’s-jar contest is … Menlo Ventures managing director Mark Siegel!

Siegel told us the day before the IPO that he thought the company’s $38 asking price “certainly fully values the company based on today’s financial metrics. I think they know how oversubscribed their book is, but I don’t think it’s going to leave too much money on the table.”

When we floated the $60 figure by him, he practically snurffled his coffee in surprise, saying there was “no way, not a chance” Facebook’s numbers would get that high any time within the next year or so.

Siegel bought his Facebook shares today, as did fellow Menlo Ventures VC Shervin Pishevar (who guessed $63) and Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital (who guessed $56).

But for those of you who didn’t hit your closing-price target Friday, don’t dismay. Facebook still has a long way to go, and we’re just at the beginning in almost every way.

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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2-D books are over: Augmented reality breathes new life into the classics

Posted: 19 May 2012 09:30 AM PDT

Augmented reality, which bridges the divide between virtual and physical worlds, has crossed into a new frontier: print media.

Penguin Books recently unveiled a surprising partnership with Zappar App, an augmented reality entertainment channel, to bring four novels from the English Library to life. Augmented reality, known as “AR,”  is type of virtual reality that overlays objects and scenes in the real world with digital information.

To access the content, just download the free Zappar mobile app, available on Android and iOS, and select a Penguin novel on the drop-down menu. Point your smartphone camera at the cover of popular titles such as Moby Dick and Great Expectations to unlock an interactive and highly visual experience. Hover over the Moby Dick cover page, and a whale swims across your phone screen, as you’re prompted to “like” Penguin Books on Facebook.

Publishers have been experimenting with integrating AR for years (in 2010, GQ ran a series of enhanced Calvin Klein underwear ads), but this futuristic technology has not yet been incorporated into classic novels until now.

“Gimmicks are easy, compelling value-adds in transmedia are hard,” said Marshall Kirkpatrick, chief executive of Plexus Engine, on the topic of the AR-enhanced Penguin novels.

The jury’s still out on whether AR can help print publishers attract a younger generation of ADD-riddled readers.

Nicola Hill, marketing director for Penguin Press, is optimistic about the opportunity to turn static print into an interactive experience. Hill describes this partnership as an “inventive” and a “fresh publishing idea.”

But managing director for Zappar, Caspar Thykier, said augmented reality is in its nascent stage. According to Thykier, publishers should take AR with a pinch of salt. “We are taking a measured approach to this,” he said. “It would be crazy to say that we are revolutionizing publishing.”

Still, Thykier said there are limitless possibilities for AR. “It’s a bit of magic isn’t it?” he said. “It’s about exciting and surprising people with additional layers of content.”

Underwear ads are one thing, but there’s something unnatural about waving a smartphone over a classic work of fiction.

Experts say we’ll see a series of magnificent experiments over the next few years. “Most will fail,” said Chris Grayson, Director of Digital, humble.tv. “The hint of what we’re seeing on mobile today is a tease of what is to come.”

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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