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Monday, December 31, 2012

Mourning for Rape Victim Recasts New Year\'s Eve in India

As my colleague Sruthi Gottipati reports, thousands of protesters marched on Monday in New Delhi, pledging to “take back the night,” as India remained in mourning for the 23-year-old victim of a gang rape who died on Saturday.

Monday night's march in the capital was just the latest in a series of protests across India in recent days.

A video report from Britain's Channel 4 News on anti-rape protests in India.

The Indian news channel IBN Live reported that New Year's Eve celebrations were scaled back or canceled in many parts of the country, replaced with protests, candlelight vigils and marches expressing widespread outrage at the failure to hold rapists accountable.

A video report from IBN Live, an Indian affiliate of CNN, on mourning for a rape victim who died on Saturday.

The death of the gang-rape victim came just days after an 18-year-old woman in Punjab State committed suicide by drinking poison after being raped by two men and then humiliated by male police officers. In the wake of the tragedies, Indian women, long accustomed to “regular harassment and assault during the day and are fearful of leaving their homes alone after dark,” poured into the streets to demand protection from the mainly male police force.

Another Indian broadcaster, NDTV, also focused its coverage on the debate over sexual violence in the country on Monday, with a panel discussion of possible actions the government could take to address the crisis and an overview of the protests in recent days.

A video report from India's NDTV on anti-rape protests in recent days.

Big Data: Rise of the Machines

For a column that laid out some second thoughts on Big Data, one of the people I talked to was Thomas H. Davenport, who has worked in the fields of knowledge management and analytics for 15 years. Data analytics is the predecessor to Big Data. He knows the context - what's new and what's not with Big Data - as well as anyone.

Mr. Davenport, a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School (on leave from Babson College), has authored and co-authored several books on analytics, including “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning” (with Jeanne G. Harris, Harvard Business School Press, 2007). Shortly after the Big Data phenomenon took off, Mr. Davenport said, only half-joking, that he considered simply substituting the term “Big Data” for “analytics” for updated versions of his books.

But as he looked more deeply, there really was something different in Big Data. Data volumes have been steadily increasing for decades, Mr. Davenport noted, though the pace has accelerated sharply in the Internet age. “More than the amount of data itself, the unstructured data from the Web and sensors is a much more salient feature of what is being called Big Data,” he said.

I also asked David B. Yoffie, a technology and competitive strategy expert at Harvard, who is not part of the Big Data crowd, what he thought. The Internet, he observed, has been a mainstream technology for 15 years, and so has the ability to monitor and mine Web browsing behavior and online communications, even if those skills are much improved now.

Still, Mr. Yoffie is most impressed by the rapid spread of low-cost sensors that make it possible to monitor all kinds of physical objects, from fruit shipments (sniffing for signs of spoilage) to jet engines (tracking wear to predict when maintenance is needed).

“The ubiquity of sensors is new,” Mr. Yoffie said. “The sensors make it possible to get data we never had before.”

Machine-generated sensor data will be become a far larger portion of the Big Data world, according to a recent report by IDC. The research report, “The Digital Universe in 2020,” published in December, traces data trends from 2005-20. One of its forecasts is that machine-generated data will increase to 42 percent of all data by 2020, up from 11 percent in 2005.

“It's all those sensors, the Internet of Things data,” said Jeremy Burton, an executive vice president at EMC, which sponsored the IDC report.

The implication is that Big Data technology will steadily move beyond the consumer Internet. Industrial companies like General Electric are a lready making big bets on the payoff. The IDC forecast also suggests that there is a lot of substance to the vision of machine-to-machine communication and intelligence that W. Brian Arthur terms “the second economy.”

A Conversation With Suneet Singh Tuli of DataWind

Suneet Singh Tuli.Stan Honda/Agence France-Presse - Getty ImagesSuneet Singh Tuli.

Suneet Singh Tuli, the chief executive of DataWind, the company behind the $40 Aakash tablet, spoke to The New York Times in New York on Nov. 29, a day after the world's cheapest computer was unveiled by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, at the United Nations headquarters.  

The project, spearheaded by the Indian government, has encountered some setbacks. Mr. Tuli's company will miss its first deadline of Dec. 31 to deliver an order of 100,000 tablets, meant for colleg e and graduate school students, to the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, the engineering institution in charge of the Aakash project. Datawind has delivered only about 14,000 tablets so far, and it recently received an extension until March 31 to supply the remaining tablets.

The 44-year-old Mr. Tuli, who pledged to make the tablet in India, talked about the difficulties in keeping up with the scale of the project and how his company can beat the prices of Chinese manufacturers in the tablet market. He also addressed recent news that Datawind shipped a batch of 10,000 tablets from China.

Here is an edited transcript of the conversation:


You had to ship 100,000 tablets to the government of India by Dec. 31. Are you on track to meet that deadline?


No. Look , the project is not going to die if all 100,000 will not be there by the end of December. If we miss it by some quantity, they [the government] will decide how much they want. Their next stage in this project is five million units. Their target is to do 220 million units over five or six years to make sure every student in that country has a computing Internet device.

They are going to put out tenders, similar to what they did here. They put out a 100,000-unit tender, we won that tender and we are supplying that product.
There is version one and version two, and lots of muck in between. But they have held steadfast to the belief that they want a low-cost device and that they will bring their financial muscle to the table to procure and get pricing down to the level they want.


You got a warning note from the I.I.T. Bombay about the Dec. 31 delivery deadline. What are you doing about it?


We are do ing the best we can.


What do you think realistically is the number you can deliver to them?


I will have to see. This is not a sort of cliff that the project stops. Yes, they want it done as fast as possible. The ramifications of it should not be blown out of proportion. It is an artificial number, not relevant to the contract or terms of agreement or anything else. They wanted the 20,000 by the time they did the launch. Unfortunately, we were able to deliver only 12 or 13 [thousand].

One can jump up and down and get upset and say, “Oh, my God, they had to do 20 and they did only 13. These got kitted in China, oh, my God.”

It doesn't impact the reality on the ground. We are proud that these concepts started in India and they are going to use it to educate their kids. And we are adding as much Indian value-add as we reasonably can.

Except we are the only one in that whole realm who is pus hing for a made-in-India product. It is not a government requirement that it be a made-in-India product. Instead, it's something we have requested the government to specify in future tenders. They should specify an Indian value-addâ€"at least 25 percent is made in India, or at least 30 percent. That wasn't part of the specs and still is not.

The government's response to the recent three days' worth of brouhaha is: We placed an order on a vendor to supply a product - beyond that we don't care.


How are you able to make the product so cheaply?


When you look at our bill of materials, we work at very low margins. No one else is in the industry is doing that. We have openly said what our business model is, focus on the recurring revenue stream: content, apps and so on. We are after a price-sensitive consumer, and to get to that we forgo most of our hardware margins.
It takes the Chinese supplier $42.85 to make it. I am telling you that I have a 5 percent margin and I make it for under $38, including the transportation, a 12-month warranty and the rest of it.


How is this possible?


The only money left in this for us is the LCD and touchscreen. We make the touchscreen in Canada, and the LCD is packaged for us in South Korea. That's the margins we squeeze.

We tweak the reference design that is used in the industry for power management that's better for usâ€" we can use this chip that's cheaper and that chip that's cheaper and it meets our requirement, and we save a $1 or $1.50 in that area.

We make the touchscreen for $2. The Chinese also make it for $2 and sell it for $10.

Instead of us bringing 800 parts from 60 vendors, and doing the boards [motherboards] in India - which is what we did for the Aakash-1 and the Aakash-1.5 - for the sake of expediency for Aakash-2, getting those through lo gistics in India takes a lot of efforts. In China, they do the boards for 30-cent margins. I reduced the whole thing down to 12 parts and I kit it.

I told them, “I don't want you to assemble these.” I told them, “Some of these are going to the Indian government. For those, I want you to put them in a kit form in a box and I am going to bring it in that manner and process it. Later on, I will do more of it.” Contractually, legally, morally, it has no implication.

I am setting up a fab [fabrication unit] for making touch panels in Amritsar, India's first fab. Except for the fact that I am the one who has been wrapping myself around the Indian flag and saying this should be done, no one is asking for it. The government is not asking for it; the consumer is not saying, “I will only buy a made-in-India product.”


You talked up about setting up a fabrication unit - that's a large investment. What is the cost?


Huge! Under 10 million [dollars]. It will make touchscreens. What we do with LCDs - we have guys in South Korea to package it for us.  They come in and do what they need to do and it goes in. We save $3 here. We maintain ourselves a 5 percent margin.


How are you able to finance this? There must be a lot of upfront cost.


There are two aspects to it, the consumer side of it and the government side of it. When we did this originally, the government was trying to get a sub-$50 product. They put out two sets of tenders, then canceled those, but couldn't get a sub-$50 product. After setting standards for eligibility criteria that would only get the multinationals in, they said the multinationals are not willing to bid. So, they said, “Why don't we go out and put a tender where we reduce the criteria and say the company only had to be $5 million in revenue.”

All these little companies like us said this is an opportunity for us. We bid; we were significantly lower than the next guy.

On the government side, they give a letter of credit that gets transferred to factories and so on - that's how it gets funded.

When the publicity started, we put out a form for selling the commercial product online. In April-end, when we launched commercially, we had three million pre-bookings. Now we are at little over four million units. We said we'll deliver against whenever the product is ready. We are getting 600 to 1,000 pre-bookings every day. We deliver 2,500 to 3,000 a day, and we are still trying to catch up.

In the middle of that, we thought, if there are consumers that want to pay and are willing to pay, let's do that. Some started paying. Unfortunately, the scale of everything here has been beyond our imagination. In India, setting up an e-commerce facility takes time, so we thought we would have people sending us checks. Big mistake!

The po st office calls us up three, four days later. They said, “You have four boxes of checks.” Then we stopped it. We prioritize orders as they come in. We deal with our pre-bookings. We deliver them.

Some get extra upset that they weren't delivering on time. We offer refunds for those who don't want to wait. They will get a world-class product, I think, at a fraction of the price they would get otherwise.


What is your manufacturing experience like? Most of your team hasn't had experience making  tablets. Does that make it kind of challenging?


What's given you the impression that our team doesn't have experience?  Let me explain our team: my brother alone has 78 patents. In the last 22 years, we have launched over 20 new electronic products. We were making the equivalent of a tablet with a 5-inch screen in 2002. For 10 years, we've been making devices in and around the tablet. We have made a series of netbooks and so on. Look up the product called PocketSurfer and see how far that goes.

Android tablets we may have been doing for only 18 months. We have experience making it. I challenge you to find somebody outside Samsung and LG, the large companies, in the same ballpark with the same depth of expertise that we do. Find me a guy who has a touchscreen facility and is making tablets on their own. The only one who is doing it is Samsung. None of my competitors in India do, Amazon doesn't, Apple doesn't.


What do you think India needs to do to improve its manufacturing of electronics?


Reduce bureaucracy. Get some pride in what they do. India is a country where garment stores have a sign that says “export quality”â€"in every other country in the world that would be insulting. If foreigners need to buy it, it has to be good quality. Export quality is a sales pitch in India.  For them to make it in In dia, there should be an incentive for them to make it in India. If nothing else, local pride that it's made in India.


What have been the biggest hurdles with shipping the tablets to the government?  What would you have done differently in retrospect?


It is a politically charged project that people take glee in demeaning. I don't know in the last 18 months what I could have done differently. The first contract stalled when I delivered 7,000 units and they said it couldn't sustain four inches of rain. Until today I haven't gotten paid.

I am creating a product at a lower price than anyone else in the world with the hope that it impacts people's lives and I make money out of it. I am not a charity. Nobody else in world is able to do it. I am getting crucified because they got kitted there [in China]. You know whatâ€"the brouhaha will be over in 48 hours and we will keep delivering the product.


At such low costs and low margins, are you running into any quality issues?


Forty-dollar devices are not going to have Apple quality in there.  The Apple customer insists on a certain level of quality. To us, cost matters most than the balance.

Ryan Block: Why I\'m Quitting Instagram

The flap over Instagram's changing its terms of service has not died down even weeks after its announcement and subsequent partial reversal. People are still arguing whether Instagram's photographers will stay loyal to the service. Ryan Block, former editor in chief of AOL's Engadget and the co-founder of the popular tech community site gdgt.com, writes in a guest post for Bits about his reasons for quitting the Facebook-owned service.

This month, surely to the chagrin of family members and friends with whom I haven't spoken face to face for over a decade, I quit Facebook. I also suspended posting photos to Instagram, the photo sharing service that Facebook recently acquired for $715 million and where I have almost 9,000 followers. But probably not for the reasons you might think.

Facebook's legendarily fast and loose approach to user privacy has long been something of a cliché, which is why deleting one's account is now something of a hollow techno-poli tical statement â€" the Internet equivalent to moving off the grid to a cabin in the mountains. And it's certainly not as if Facebook has much to worry about, as no number of high-profile abandoners over the last two years have slowed the company's ballooning growth, now at over a billion active users.

So few Facebook users took part in Facebook's last site-governance voting, in which users were asked to approve or disapprove a number of workaday changes to its policy, that it resulted in the eventual shutdown of the site-governance balloting itself.

I also suspect that most Instagram users won't go to the mat over the company's proposed terms of service changes, which provided Facebook the ability to sell users' photos. (Instagram has since backpedaled on these changes, smartly.)

Despite any nefarious behavior, real or perceived, my decision to quit was actually far less sophisticated. In the case of Facebook, I've simply never been fond of the service and intended to remove my largely inactive account for years. In the case of Instagram, I've fallen out of love with highly filtered square photos of sunsets and (often delicious-looking) plates of food.

In my search for technology products and services that somehow enrich or add value to my life, Facebook and Instagram have been a net negative not only in their usefulness, but also in other, subtle ways most people don't often consider.

The longer users keep any of their accounts alive â€" even if dormant â€" on the dozens or hundreds of sites, services and apps registered with over the years, the greater the chances are of that data's being used in ways we may not approve. This isn't anything new, but as privacy policies shift and companies change hands, data we may think of as being rather personal c an become highly liquid.

A decade ago, I joined one of the early social networking sites, Friendster, which struggled to find a business model and eventually collapsed as users migrated to MySpace. In the intervening years, Friendster's brand, intellectual property (including some seminal social networking patents), and most important, user data from millions of people, were broken up or changed hands.

Now, eons later (in Internet time), Friendster lives on as an online gaming company aimed at Southeast Asian youth. I might have eventually discovered this fact by keeping up on technology news, but it turns out there was no need: one day last year, my inbox started to fill up with Friendster marketing messages for the first time in years, and I realized that my long-forgotten decade-old profile data had been sold, without my knowledge or permission, to a company I'd never heard of in Asia. And I could do nothing about it.

As technology companies work overtim e to make it easier to sign up and maintain accounts, little regard is given to the long-term ownership and use of our data. After all, it's far easier for each of us to simply forget and neglect all the random sites and services we've signed up for than to keep up with the innumerable changes to opaque terms of service and privacy policy documents, or monitor every merger and acquisition of every company that makes something we use. In fact, to do so would basically be a full-time job, and an excruciatingly tedious one at that.

There are other costs to letting accounts go dormant, too. The final time I loaded Facebook to click the delete button, I noticed weeks-old friend requests from my grandmother and one of my cousins. Since I long ago configured my Facebook profile to automatically ingest and posts my tweets, I'm sure it outwardly seemed as if I'm an active Facebook user. Which, of course, would make me a huge jerk for not responding to their friend requests.

I've also been on the other side of the same situation, having sent unrequited friend requests on other social networks like Path, never knowing whether I've been spurned, or whether the other party just doesn't use the service very often.

Perhaps worst of all, in an era where we meticulously prune our online personae, services like Facebook require constant diligence and maintenance. On Twitter accounts, About.me profiles, or LinkedIn bios, at the very least users are empowered by complete control in their outward appearance. This is in contrast to Facebook and any other social tool that allows any user in its social graph to associate you with all manner of unrelated career- (or even potentially life-) changing posts or images.

We'd all be much better off simplifying our technological footprints and consolidating our trust in the few services that provide us the greatest value with the fewest unintended side effects. In the end, I'm not afraid to admit it. I 'm a quitter.

And you should be, too. People wondering what there is to gain by thinning their online accounts sometimes ask: “Why quit?” Instead, I think every once in a while we should all ask ourselves: “Why stay?”

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Bold Idea for Cheap Tablets, but India Is Still Waiting

An Idea Promised the Sky, but India Is Still Waiting

Christinne Muschi for The New York Times

A prototype tablet is assembled at a DataWind site in Montreal. The company's plan to invigorate India's electronics manufacturing by producing low-cost tablets for students has gone awry.


DataWind planned to make Aakash-2 tablets not at its own site, above, but in India.

THE idea was, and still is, captivating: in 2011, the Indian government and two Indian-born tech entrepreneurs unveiled a $50 tablet computer, to be built in India with Google's free Android software. The government would buy the computers by the millions and give them to its schoolchildren.

Enthusiasts saw the plan as a way to bring modern touch-screen computing to some of the world's poorest people while seeding a technology manufacturing industry in India. Legions of customers placed advance orders for a commercial version of the tablet, thrilled at the prospect of owning tangible proof that India was a leader in “frugal innovation.”

Even the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, lavished praise on the audacious project, called Aakash, the Hindi word for sky. “India is a superpower on the information superhighway,” Mr. Ki-moon said at a ceremony in November at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Stoking expectations was Suneet Singh Tuli, the charismatic C.E.O. of the small London-based company that won the bid. “I am creating a product at a lower price than anyone else in the world with the hope that it impacts people's lives and I make money out of it,” he said in a recent interview.

But over the last few months, it has become increasingly evident that Mr. Tuli, 44, and his older brother, Raja Singh Tuli, 46, are unable to deliver on most of their ambitious promises.

The Tulis acknowledge that their company, DataWind, will not even come close to shipping the 100,000 tablets it has promised to India's colleges and universities before its year-end deadline. Most of the 10,000 or so tablets delivered through early December were made in China, despite the company's early pledge to manufacture in India. Financial statements filed with British regulators show that the company is deeply in the red.

And the project's entire premise - that India can make a cheap tablet computer that will somehow make up for failures of the country's crippled education system - is fundamentally flawed, according to some experts in education and manufacturing.

Leigh L. Linden, an assistant professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied the use of technology in schools in India and other developing countries, said that, at best, computers merely match the performance gains from far less costly projects that involve hiring additional teachers or teaching assistants. And in some cases, Professor Linden said, the introduction of computers can actually lower students' test results.

“Based on the available research,” he said, “this would not be the most effective strategy for education in developing countries.”

The notion that India's weak manufacturing sector can catch up to China in advanced computer hardware also strikes some experts as far-fetched. “China became the manufacturing center of the world, and India missed that boat,” said Surjit S. Bhalla, an economist and managing director of Oxus Investments.

So far, the Indian government is standing firmly behind the project.

“All pathbreaking ideas do look too ambitious when conceived,” the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which oversees the Aakash project, said in an e-mailed statement. Aakash is “an all-encompassing project,” not just the creation of a tablet computer, the ministry said. With it, the government plans to create “an entire manufacturing ecosystem” in India.

INTERVIEWS with DataWind executives, government officials, Chinese manufacturers, business partners and former and current employees paint a picture of a small family company that was overwhelmed by a complex project that even China's cutthroat technology manufacturers would find challenging to execute at the price expected by the government.

Leading a tour last month of the company's small touch-screen factory in downtown Montreal, Raja Tuli, DataWind's co-chairman and chief technology officer, said he had initially opposed his brother's desire to bid on the Aakash contract, and he expressed lingering regrets.

“We got stuck in it,” he said. “We're doing our best.”

DataWind's real goal, Mr. Tuli said, is to sell low-cost wireless Internet access for tablets in developing countries like India. He said DataWind's proprietary data compression technology, which made its debut in Britain years ago with a device called the PocketSurfer, efficiently delivers Web pages over older, slower cellphone networks.

Pamposh Raina reported from New Delhi and Amritsar, India, Ian Austen from Montreal and Heather Timmons from New Delhi. Mia Li contributed reporting from Beijing.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 30, 2012, on page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline: An Idea Promised the Sky, but India Is Still Waiting.

Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition.

Sure, Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition.

IT was the bold title of a conference this month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and of a widely read article in The Harvard Business Review last October: “Big Data: The Management Revolution.”

Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business, led off the conference by saying that Big Data would be “the next big chapter of our business history.” Next on stage was Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor and director of the M.I.T. center and a co-author of the article with Dr. McAfee. Big Data, said Professor Brynjolfsson, will “replace ideas, paradigms, organizations and ways of thinking about the world.”

These drumroll claims rest on the premise that data like Web-browsing trails, sensor signals, GPS tracking, and social network messages will open the door to measuring and monitoring people and machines as never before. And by setting clever computer algorithms loose on the data troves, you can predict behavior of all kinds: shopping, dating and voting, for example.

The results, according to technologists and business executives, will be a smarter world, with more efficient companies, better-served consumers and superior decisions guided by data and analysis.

I've written about what is now being called Big Data a fair bit over the years, and I think it's a powerful tool and an unstoppable trend. But a year-end column, I thought, might be a time for reflection, questions and qualms about this technology.

The quest to draw useful insights from business measurements is nothing new. Big Data is a descendant of Frederick Winslow Taylor's “scientific management” of more than a century ago. Taylor's instrument of measurement was the stopwatch, timing and monitoring a worker's every movement. Taylor and his acolytes used these time-and-motion studies to redesign work for maximum efficiency. The excesses of this approach would become satirical grist for Charlie Chaplin's “Modern Times.” The enthusiasm for quantitative methods has waxed and waned ever since.

Big Data proponents point to the Internet for examples of triumphant data businesses, notably Google. But many of the Big Data techniques of math modeling, predictive algorithms and artificial intelligence software were first widely applied on Wall Street.

At the M.I.T. conference, a panel was asked to cite examples of big failures in Big Data. No one could really think of any. Soon after, though, Roberto Rigobon could barely contain himself as he took to the stage. Mr. Rigobon, a professor at M.I.T.'s Sloan School of Management, said that the financial crisis certainly humbled the data hounds. “Hedge funds failed all over the world,” he said.

THE problem is that a math model, like a metaphor, is a simplification. This type of modeling came out of the sciences, where the behavior of particles in a fluid, for example, is predictable according to the laws of physics.

In so many Big Data applications, a math model attaches a crisp number to human behavior, interests and preferences. The peril of that approach, as in finance, was the subject of a recent book by Emanuel Derman, a former quant at Goldman Sachs and now a professor at Columbia University. Its title is “Models. Behaving. Badly.”

Claudia Perlich, chief scientist at Media6Degrees, an online ad-targeting start-up in New York, puts the problem this way: “You can fool yourself with data like you can't with anything else. I fear a Big Data bubble.”

The bubble that concerns Ms. Perlich is not so much a surge of investment, with new companies forming and then failing in large numbers. That's capitalism, she says. She is worried about a rush of people calling themselves “data scientists,” doing poor work and giving the field a bad name.

Indeed, Big Data does seem to be facing a work-force bottleneck.

“We can't grow the skills fast enough,” says Ms. Perlich, who formerly worked for I.B.M. Watson Labs and is an adjunct professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University.

A report last year by the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the consulting firm, projected that the United States needed 140,000 to 190,000 more workers with “deep analytical” expertise and 1.5 million more data-literate managers, whether retrained or hired.

Thomas H. Davenport, a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School, is writing a book called “Keeping Up With the Quants” to help managers cope with the Big Data challenge. A major part of managing Big Data projects, he says, is asking the right questions: How do you define the problem? What data do you need? Where does it come from? What are the assumptions behind the model that the data is fed into? How is the model different from reality?

Society might be well served if the model makers pondered the ethical dimensions of their work as well as studying the math, according to Rachel Schutt, a senior statistician at Google Research.

“Models do not just predict, but they can make things happen,” says Ms. Schutt, who taught a data science course this year at Columbia. “That's not discussed generally in our field.”

Models can create what data scientists call a behavioral loop. A person feeds in data, which is collected by an algorithm that then presents the user with choices, thus steering behavior.

Consider Facebook. You put personal data on your Facebook page, and Facebook's software tracks your clicks and your searches on the site. Then, algorithms sift through that data to present you with “friend” suggestions.

Understandably, the increasing use of software that microscopically tracks and monitors online behavior has raised privacy worries. Will Big Data usher in a digital surveillance state, mainly serving corporate interests?

Personally, my bigger concern is that the algorithms that are shaping my digital world are too simple-minded, rather than too smart. That was a theme of a book by Eli Pariser, titled “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You.”

It's encouraging that thoughtful data scientists like Ms. Perlich and Ms. Schutt recognize the limits and shortcomings of the Big Data technology that they are building. Listening to the data is important, they say, but so is experience and intuition. After all, what is intuition at its best but large amounts of data of all kinds filtered through a human brain rather than a math model?

At the M.I.T. conference, Ms. Schutt was asked what makes a good data scientist. Obviously, she replied, the requirements include computer science and math skills, but you also want someone who has a deep, wide-ranging curiosity, is innovative and is guided by experience as well as data.

“I don't worship the machine,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 30, 2012, on page BU3 of the New York edition with the headline: Sure, Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition..

Electronic Devices on Planes Are Dangerous Because of F.A.A. Rules

Over the last year, flying with phones and other devices has become increasingly dangerous.

In September, a passenger was arrested in El Paso after refusing to turn off his cellphone as the plane was landing. In October, a man in Chicago was arrested because he used his iPad during takeoff. In November, half a dozen police cars raced across the tarmac at La Guardia Airport in New York, surrounding a plane as if there were a terrorist on board. They arrested a 30-year-old man who had also refused to turn off his phone while on the runway.

Who is to blame in these episodes? You can't solely condemn the passengers. Some of the responsibility falls on the Federal Aviation Administration, for continuing to uphold a rule that is based on the unproven idea that a phone or tablet can interfere with the operation of a plane.

These conflicts have been going on for several years. In 2010, a 68-year-old man punched a teenager because he didn't turn off his phone. Lt. Kent Lipple of the Boise Police Department in Idaho, who arrested the puncher, said the man “felt he was protecting the entire plane and its occupants.” And let's not forget Alec Baldwin, who was kicked off an American Airlines plane in 2011 for playing Words With Friends while parked at the gate.

Dealing with the F.A.A. on this topic is like arguing with a stubborn teenager. The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims, spreading irrational fear among the millions of people who fly within the United States each year - there were 643 million passengers on flights in the year ending in September.

A year ago, when I first asked Les Dorr, a spokesman for the F.A.A., why the rule existed, he said the agency was being cautious because there was no proof that device use was completely safe. He also said it was because passengers needed to pay attention during takeoff.

When I asked why I can read a printed book but not a digital one, the agency changed its reasoning. I was told by another F.A.A. representative that it was because an iPad or Kindle could put out enough electromagnetic emissions to disrupt the flight. Yet a few weeks later, the F.A.A. proudly announced that pilots could now use iPads in the cockpit instead of paper flight manuals.

The F.A.A. then told me that “two iPads are very different than 200.” But tests performed for The New York Times by EMT Labs, an independent testing facility in Mountain View, Calif., indicated that there was no difference in radio output between two iPads and 200. “Electromagnetic energy doesn't add up like that,” said Kevin Bothmann, the EMT Labs testing manager.

It's not a matter of a flying device hitting another passenger, either. Kindles weigh less than six ounces; Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs weighs 2.1 pounds in hardcover. I'd rather be hit in the head by an iPad Mini than a 650- page book.

In October, after months of pressure from the public and the news media, the F.A.A. finally said it would begin a review of its policies on electronic devices in all phases of flight, including takeoff and landing. But the agency does not have a set time frame for announcing its findings. An F.A.A. spokeswoman told me last week that the agency was preparing to move to the next phase of its work in this area, and would appoint members to a rule-making committee that will begin meeting in January.

The F.A.A. should check out an annual report issued by NASA that compiles cases involving electronic devices on planes. None of those episodes have produced scientific evidence that a device can harm a plane's operation. Reports of such interference have been purely speculation by pilots about the cause of a problem.

Other government agencies and elected officials are finally getting involved.

This month, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, sent a letter to the F.A.A. telling the agency that it had a responsibility to “enable greater use of tablets, e-readers and other portable devices” during flights, as they empower people and allow “both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost U.S. competitiveness.”

A week later, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, sent a letter to the F.A.A. noting that the public was “growing increasingly skeptical of prohibitions” on devices on airplanes. She warned that she was “prepared to pursue legislative solutions should progress be made too slowly.”

If there is no progress on this issue, there will eventually be an episode on a plane in which someone is seriously harmed as a result of a device being on during takeoff. But it won't be because the device is interfering with the plane's systems. Instead, it will be because one passenger harms another, beli eving they are protecting the plane from a Kindle, which creates less electromagnetic emissions than a calculator.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pakistan Lifts, Then Reinstates YouTube Ban

As my colleague Salman Masood reported on Twitter, online rejoicing at the end of Pakistan's three-month ban on YouTube was short-lived on Saturday, as the government reimposed the ban shortly after it was lifted following reports that copies of a low-budget film mocking the Prophet Muhammad appeared in searches of the site.

Just hours after the assistant director of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ordered internet service providers to “immediately unblock/restore” YouTube, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf “issued orders to block YouTube again,” a senior official told Agence France-Presse.

According to Pakistani journalists, the prime minister decided to reinstate the ban after the television channel Geo News reported that Pakistanis could still view the “Innocence of Muslims” film on YouTube, despite claims that the government would block the clip using filtering software.

Although Pakistani bloggers blamed Geo News for the reimposed ban, one of the channel's journalists who had searched for the offensive clip, Mansoor Ali Khan, mocked the government for the re versal and argued that he had only intended to demonstrate that the original ban had been ineffective. He noted that the prime minister acted less than 24 hours after Interior Minister Rehman Malik had announced that access to the site would be restored.

Another Geo News reporter, Maria Memon, wrote that she would not defend the role her station played in the debacle, but suggested that the some members of the government prefer to have the site blocked and had used the report as an excuse.

The government's sudden reversals on Saturday caused several Pakistani commentators to bitterly denounce the country's leaders for pandering to religious fundamentalists.

In a post headlined “The Great YouTube Escapade,” the blogger Kala Kawa concluded:

A confluence of idiocy of the sort that we see on a regular basis in Pakistan has ruled again. Courts that have somehow come to believe that they represent the will of the people, create orders that limit our agency in one wave of their robe. Journalists who have inflated their sense of self to the point where they no longer recognize themselves, inform us of how we ought to behave in our private lives. A civilian government that proclaims itself to be secular bends to the will of every right-wing demand at the expense of those that are ideologically aligned with them.

Unfortunately, none of this is new to us. Even worse, this is far from the last time something like this will happen to us.

Plane Crashes Near Moscow, Killing at Least Two

Footage of a plane that crashed near Vnukovo airport.

A Russian passenger jet overshot the runway at Vnukovo airport near Moscow on Saturday and crashed into a highway, killing at least two people, according to media reports, pictures and video of the episode.

Photographs show the plane, a Red Wings airline Tupolev 204, according to The Associated Press, broken into pieces, its cockpit torn from the rest of the fuselage.

A video shows the tail of the plane, which officials said was coming from the Czech Republic carrying at least eight people, was sheared off in the crash. Others were injured, but reports on precise numbers were conflicting.

The Web site The Aviation Herald, whi ch collects official information on aviation incidents, reported that the plane “overran the end of the runway, broke through the localizer antenna, the airport perimeter fence, broke up and came to a stop on elevated highway M3 about 400 meters/1200 feet past the runway end.”

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear. The BBC reported that Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia had called for an investigation.

Rescuers worked at the site where a plane crashed at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow on Saturday.Alexander Usoltsev/Associated Press Rescuers worked at the site where a plane crashed at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow on Saturday.
Prior to Saturday's crash, there had been no fatal accidents reported for Tu-204s, which entered commercial service in 1995.Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press Prior to Saturday's crash, there had been no fatal accidents reported for Tu-204s, which entered commercial service in 1995.
The plane's cockpit area was sheared off from the fuselage.Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press The plane's cockpit area was sheared off from the fuselage.
The crash occurred amid light snow in Moscow.Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images The crash occurred amid light snow in Moscow.
Police investigators and emergency services teams worked at the crash site.Andrey Smirnov/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images Police investigators and emergency services teams worked at the crash site.

Federal Power to Intercept Internet Messages Is Extended

Federal Power to Intercept Messages Is Extended

WASHINGTON - Congress gave final approval on Friday to a bill extending the government's power to intercept electronic communications of spy and terrorism suspects, after the Senate voted down proposals from several Democrats and Republicans to increase protections of civil liberties and privacy.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 73 to 23, clearing it for approval by President Obama, who strongly supports it. Intelligence agencies said the bill was their highest legislative priority.

Critics of the bill, including Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican, expressed concern that electronic surveillance, though directed at noncitizens, inevitably swept up communications of Americans as well.

“The Fourth Amendment was written in a different time and a different age, but its necessity and its truth are timeless,” Mr. Paul said, referring to the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. “Over the past few decades, our right to privacy has been eroded. We have become lazy and haphazard in our vigilance. Digital records seem to get less protection than paper records.”

The bill, which extends the government's surveillance authority for five years, was approved in the House by a vote of 301 to 118 in September. Mr. Obama is expected to sign the bill in the next few days.

Congressional critics of the bill said that they suspected that intelligence agencies were picking up the communications of many Americans, but that they could not be sure because the agencies would not provide even rough estimates of how many people inside the United States had had communications collected under authority of the surveillance law, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The inspector general of the National Security Agency told Congress that preparing such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office.

The chief Senate supporter of the bill, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the proposed amendments were unnecessary. Moreover, she said, any changes would be subject to approval by the House, and the resulting delay could hamper the government's use of important intelligence-gathering tools, for which authority is set to expire next week.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was adopted in 1978 and amended in 2008, with the addition of new surveillance authority and procedures, which are continued by the bill approved on Friday. The 2008 law was passed after the disclosure that President George W. Bush had authorized eavesdropping inside the United States, to search for evidence of terrorist activity, without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying.

Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that he and Mr. Wyden were concerned that “a loophole” in the 2008 law “could allow the government to effectively conduct warrantless searches for Americans' communications.”

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, told Congress, “There is no loophole in the law.”

By a vote of 52 to 43, the Senate on Friday rejected a proposal by Mr. Wyden to require the national intelligence director to tell Congress if the government had collected any domestic e-mail or telephone conversations under the surveillance law.

The Senate also rejected, 54 to 37, an amendment that would have required disclosure of information about significant decisions by a special federal court that reviews applications for electronic surveillance in foreign intelligence cases.

The amendment was proposed by one of the most liberal senators, Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, and one of the most conservative, Mike Lee, Republican of Utah.

The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, said the surveillance law “does not have adequate checks and balances to protect the constitutional rights of innocent American citizens.”

“It is supposed to focus on foreign intelligence,” Mr. Durbin said, “but the reality is that this legislation permits targeting an innocent American in the United States as long as an additional purpose of the surveillance is targeting a person outside the United States.”

However, 30 Democrats joined 42 Republicans and one independent in voting for the bill. Three Republicans - Mr. Lee, Mr. Paul and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - voted against the bill, as did 19 Democrats and one independent.

Mr. Merkley said the administration should provide at least unclassified summaries of major decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“An open and democratic society such as ours should not be governed by secret laws,” Mr. Merkley said, “and judicial interpretations are as much a part of the law as the words that make up our statute.”

Mrs. Feinstein said the law allowed intelligence agencies to go to the court and get warrants for surveillance of “a category of foreign persons,” without showing probable cause to believe that each person was working for a foreign power or a terrorist group.

Mr. Wyden said these writs reminded him of the “general warrants that so upset the colonists” more than 200 years ago.

“The founding fathers could never have envisioned tweeting and Twitter and the Internet,” Mr. Wyden said. “Advances in technology gave government officials the power to invade individual privacy in a host of new ways.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 29, 2012, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Federal Power To Intercept Messages Is Extended.

Questions Remain Over Hewlett\'s Big Charge on Autonomy Acquisition

The $5 billion fight over accounting allegations at Hewlett-Packard shows no sign of abating.

In November, H.P. took a $8.8 billion charge as it wrote down its acquisition of Autonomy, a British software company that it acquired in 2011. H.P. said that “more than $5 billion” of the charge was related to accounting and disclosure abuses at Autonomy. H.P. added that a senior executive at Autonomy pointed to the questionable practices after Mike Lynch, Autonomy's founder and former chief executive, left H.P.

Mr. Lynch denied the allegations. In November, he said the accounting moves that H.P. highlighted were legitimate under international accounting rules, and he demanded that the company be more specific in how it arrived at the $5 billion number. H.P. on Thursday released its annual report for its 2012 fiscal year, noting that the United States Justice Department “had opened an investigation relating to Autonomy.”

The report discusses the methodology it employed when making the $8.8 billion charge, but it did not break out exactly how the alleged accounting improprieties were behind $5 billion of that charge.

Mr. Lynch seized on that. In a statement on Friday, he said that H.P.'s report had “failed to provide any detailed information on the alleged accounting impropriety, or how this could possibly have resulted in such a substantial write-down.”

This accounting rabbit hole has real world consequences.

H.P. management, led by the company's chief executive, Meg Whitman, has proceeded with a feisty certainty since the outset of this spat. If the $5 billion figure is not ultimately substantiated, shareholders may doubt H.P. management's judgment. Also, annual reports are supposed to be exactly the place that investors can go to get their questions answered.

The fact that the $5 billion part of H.P.'s case is not repeated there should give shareholders pause. The report avoids words and phrases that would help a reader understand just how much of an impact the alleged improprieties had. The report says lower financial projections for Autonomy contributed to the write-down. In one part, it said those financial projections “incorporate” H.P.'s analysis of what it believed to be improper accounting. In another section, the report says the changed financial projections were “driven” by the alleged abuses.

That sort of language led Mr. Lynch to say in his Friday statement that, “H.P. is backtracking.”

H.P., however, says it's doing nothing of the sort. In a statement released after Mr. Lynch's on Friday, the company. said, “As we have said previously, the majority of this impairment charge, more than $5 billion, is linked to serious accounting improprieties, disclosure failures and outright misrepresentations.”

The statement also appeared to respond to the criticism that more details about the $5 billion should have appeared in the annual report. H.P. said the report, “is meant to provide the necessary overview of H.P.'s financial condition, including our audited financial statements, which is what our filing does.” The company added, “We continue to believe that the authorities and the courts are the appropriate venues in which to address the wrongdoing discovered at Autonomy.”

Sifting through the Autonomy weeds could obscure the bigger question: Was everything above board at Autonomy? H.P. may have overstated the impact of what it calls improprieties in the charge. But Autonomy may still have had unreliable numbers that overstat ed its value at the time of its acquisition.

Mr. Lynch says the poor performance of Autonomy once it was part of H.P. was down to H.P.'s mismanagement. But it could also have been because the new owners were not benefiting from the accounting that they have since questioned.

In some ways, the most intriguing detail in this mystery is the supposed whistle-blower who brought the accounting issues to management's attention. This person may have been able to show how what he or she believed to be chicanery was hidden from the accounting firms that checked Autonomy's books.

H.P. has enough performance issues that its executives will probably see the Autonomy issue as a distraction and shareholders may get little extra detail. By the sounds of it, that probably won't satisfy Mr. Lynch.

“It is time for Meg Whitman to stop making allegations and to start offering explanations,” is how he signed off his Friday statement.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Digital Diary: Facebook Poke and the Tedium of Success Theater

There's a big problem in social media right now.

It's boring.

A crucial and indispensable source of news and information, absolutely. But more often than not, it's also tedious and predictable.

Don't get me wrong: My use of Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook has never been greater. But I'm growing tired of seeing everyone's perfectly framed, glittering nightscapes of the Manhattan skyline, their impeccably prepared meals, those beautifully blurred views of the world from an airplane window seat. I'm getting tired of carefully crafting and sharing them myself.

As these mediums have matured and more of our friends, colleagues, former flings, in-laws and friends have migrated to them, our use of them has changed. We've become better at choreographing ourselves and showing our best sides to the screen, capturing the most flattering angle of our faces, our homes, our evenings out, our loved ones and our trips.

It's success theater, and we've mastered it. We've gotten better at it because it matters more. You never know who is looking or how it might affect your relationships and career down the road, and as a result, we have become more cautious about the version of ourselves that we present to each other and the world. Even Twitter, a service steeped in real-time and right-nowness, has added filters to its photo uploads, letting its users add a washed-out effect to their posts. It makes me miss the raw and unfiltered glimpses those services used to provide of the lives of my friends and the people I follow.

But the ubiquity of success theater is why I've become so fascinated with Snapchat and, more recently, Facebook Poke, services that let you send photos, messages and videos with a built-in shelf life, that self-destruct after a time interval that you choose. The beauty of these applications, perhaps their main redempti ve quality, is that you can only send photos, messages and videos that you have created within the application. You cannot access your phone's photo library for a more attractive self-portrait or an exotic locale to mask that you're really sitting on the couch on Friday night in pajamas, wearing a face mask.

These applications are the opposite of groomed; they practically require imperfection, a sloppiness and a grittiness that conveys a sense of realness, something I've been craving in my communication. They transform the screen of your phone into a window into the life of your friend, wherever they are at that exact moment.

All of this is not to say that Snapchat or Facebook Poke have any permanent home in our daily routines. The applications, in their current iterations, have yet to gain significant traction in any of my social circles. Part of the fun is the novelty, as with any new service. And both have specific uses that are not as mainstream as services l ike Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even Tumblr. After all, it's much harder to find your comfort level within them. It's startling, at first, to see the poorly lit, grainy pictures of your friends' unfiltered faces, to adjust to the intimacy of realizing that the video of your friend that just landed in your in-box is meant for your eyes only, and that you are expected to send something of equal or greater intimacy in return. It is also possible that over time, Snapchat, VidBurn and Facebook Poke will become warped by their own versions of success theater, or lose steam if they gain seedier reputations.

But they capture a behavior my closest friends and I had already begun to adopt: The practice of showing each other where we are at any given moment in time, either through a short video or photo of our workstations, our faces as we lie half-asleep in bed on rainy Sunday afternoons, a look into our lives that is reserved for only those closest to each other. It is an acknowledgement that the version of ourselves we share through other social media is not the truest one, and has not been for a long time.

This is a variation of the same impulse that made Chatroulette a viral hit, and something that Apple has tried to capture with FaceTime, Google with its Hangouts, even Color's ill-fated last and final iteration. It's enough to make me think that the real real-time social Web is coming, in one form or another.

Bahrain Detains Officer for Slapping Man

Although Bahrain has previously failed to prosecute members of the security forces caught on video shooting unarmed protesters, this week an officer who slapped a man with a baby in his arms was detained after video of the incident attracted wide attention.

The activist Ala'a Shehabi drew attention to the video, which was recorded on Sunday in the village of A'ali.

The clip, which has been viewed more than 450,000 times this week, prompted Bahrain's interior ministry to announce that the officer had been detained pending an investigation.

After video of another incident was posted online, Bahrain's interior minister “condemned the behavior of policemen seen recently in videos circulating on social media” in a statement. The minister also asked members of the public who record such violations to report them to the authorities.

An opposition activist who blogs as Chan'ad Bahraini suggested that it was odd for the government to encourage witnesses who record abusive behavior by the police to come forward less than two weeks after jailing a leading rights activist for documenting injuries suffered by a protester on Twitter.

As Mohamed Hassan pointed out in a post for Global Voices, however, the interior ministry's official statements were undermined by comments made by Bahrain's police chief, Tariq al-Hassan. In a series of updates on his personal Twitter account translated by the Global Voices blogger, the senior police official suggested that such video recording of police brutality were part of a plot:

Attempts to defame the ministry of interior and its staff is a part of a fierce war by known and exposed persons and organizations after their previous plans have failed.

Those organizations and their followers use derogatory terms towards policemen to demean their personalities and incite hate towards them among the people young and old.

They set up ambushes for policemen based on scenarios prepared by media professionals working in known media channels in other countries and then filmed and released when needed.

These traitorous fakers publish those scenes and exaggerate them as they are instructed and the way that fits the go als of those countries and theirs.

The Global Voices blogger also translated a Twitter comment from the Qatari journalist Mohamed Fahad Alqahtani, who observed: “The slap video is agonizing because it is a testimony that the dignity of a human is the least appreciated thing on the priority list of some Gulf police states. What a shame!”

NYC Crime Is Up and Bloomberg Blames iPhone Thieves

Major crime in New York City inched up this year, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Friday fingered the culprit: too many iPhones and iPads were being swiped

Pakistan to Lift YouTube Ban, as a Viral Video Star Is Welcomed Home

Muhammad Shahid Nazir, a singing fishmonger who became a star thanks to a viral YouTube video, was given a hero's welcome on his return to Lahore on Thursday.Arif Ali/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images Muhammad Shahid Nazir, a singing fishmonger who became a star thanks to a viral YouTube video, was given a hero's welcome on his return to Lahore on Thursday.

Pakistan's interior minister announced on Friday that the country plans to lift a ban on YouTube that was imposed in September, following violent protests over a crude anti-Islam film uploaded to the site by an Egyptian-American. The governme nt acted to rescind the ban just hours after the star of one of the year's most popular YouTube videos, a singing Pakistani fishmonger, was given a hero's welcome on his return to Lahore from Britain.

The minister, Rehman Malik, revealed the news in a series of updates to his Twitter feed, in which he said that Pakistanis should be able to access the site within 24 hours and congratulated the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on finding ways to “block anti-Islamic material.”

As the Web desk of Pakistan's Express Tribune noted, though, “the news of the video-sharing site being unblocked comes with an ominous cloud over it.” Specifically, the interior minister's subsequent statement that the government is moving ahead with a plan to emulate China by constructing a national firewall to filter content.

Mr. Malik's comments were published one day after the Pakistani star of a viral video was given an elaborate welcome in the city of Lahore. According to a report in Friday's edition of the Pakistani newspaper The Nation:

Hundreds showed up at Lahore airport to honor Muhammad Shahid Nazir, who scaled the British music charts with “One Pound Fish,” which he originally composed to entice shoppers at the east London market where he worked. The song became a YouTube hit after someone filmed Nazir singing i t at the market and Warner Music signed him up for a record deal in the hope of getting the coveted Christmas number one spot in the charts.

Mr. Nazir owes his stardom to a freelance Web designer's YouTube clip of the fishmonger singing his “One Pound Fish” tune at a market in London's Upton Park in March. The video of that performance has been viewed more than 7 million times.

Video of a Pakistani fishmonger singing at a market in London in March has been viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube this year.

That viral hit spawned a professional music video for a dance remix of the song, released three weeks ago, that has racked up an additional 9 million views. Warne r Music is also selling six remixes of the song on iTunes.

The “o-fish-al” music video for “One Pound Fish,” the dance remix.

The Nation's report gave a sense of how famous Mr. Nazir managed to become, despite the ban on the video-sharing site in his home country: “Around 250 people, including local politicians met him at the airport, showering him with rose petals and chanting ‘Long Live One Pound Fish!' while TV networks interrupted coverage of the fifth anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination to show his return live.”

According to a note Mr. Nazir poste d on Twitter on Friday, the ban on YouTube apparently failed to prevent his song from becoming a hit in Pakistan.

Doubts about the effectiveness of easily-evaded block on the video-sharing site were described last month in a video report from Karachi's Express Tribune, whose Web editor noted that traffic to the newspaper's YouTube channel increased in the two weeks following the ban.

A video report on Pakistan's YouTube ban from Karachi's Express Tribune.

While the recent block on YouTube access in Pakistan was explained as a measure to deal with the threat posed to the nation's moral fiber by the crude biopic of the Prophet Muhammad uploaded by an Egyptian Christian living in California, the authorities have also been disturbed by the use of the video-sharing site by Islamist militants. Last year, the interior minister told reporters that Pakistan might need to block YouTube and other Web sites based in the United States to prevent the Taliban and other militant groups from using the Internet to communicate.

Video of Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, speaking to reporters on Sept. 17, 2011.

Dreams of \'Open\' Everything

Software is not merely about automating every aspect of our lives anymore. Some of its makers want to change the way we all interact, spreading their supposed egalitarian excellence.

Whether this is liberation into a new and better mode of being (and yes, the people thinking about this take it to that scale) or the folly of an industry in love with its success is one of the more intriguing questions of a world rushing to live online.

GitHub is a San Francisco company that started in 2008 as a way for open-source software writers in disparate locations to rapidly create new and better versions of their work. Work is stored, shared and discussed, based on the idea of a “pull request,” which is a suggestion to the group for some accretive element, like several lines of code, to be “pulled,” or added, to a project.

“The concept is based around change: what is the right thing to do, what is the wrong thing?” said Tom Preston-Werner, GitHub's co-fo under and chief executive. “The efficiency of large groups working together is very low in large enterprises. We want to change that.”

Mr. Preston-Werner's own company is something of a proxy for how he sees the world. GitHub has no managers among its 140 employees, for example. “Everyone has management interests,” he said. “People can work on things that are interesting to them. Companies should exist to optimize happiness, not money. Profits follow.” He does, however, retain his own title and decides things like salaries.

In his blog Mr. Preston-Werner has written about how important it is for  companies to expose as much of their inner workings as possible. Another member of GitHub has posted a talk that stresses how companies flourish when people want to work on certain things, not b ecause they are told to.

This style and sentiment echoes those at another company, Asana, a corporate social network aiming to improve the pace of work. Founded by Dustin Moskovitz, who was a co-founder of Facebook and for many years ran its technology, Asana bases work on a series of to-do lists that people assign one another. Inside Asana there are no formal titles, though like GitHub there are bosses at the top who make final decisions.

For all the happiness and sharing, real money is involved here. In July GitHub received $100 million from the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. This early in most software companies' lives, $20 million would be a fortune.

Companies pay to use GitHub, and it has become an exceptionally popular way for people to do all kinds of software work; in 2012 its number of users jumped t o 2.8 million from 1.2 million. The number of “repositories” - containing code, its documentation, images associated with a project or other work - increased to 4.6 million from 1.7 million last year.

Many of these are open-source projects, and GitHub does not break out their revenue.

GitHub's popularity has also made it an important way for companies to recruit engineers, because some of the best people in the business are showing their work or dissecting the work of others inside some of the public pull requests. Its founders and backers, however, want to use the GitHub model to make mobile and enterprise software applications, and possibly much more.

Mr. Preston-Werner thinks the way open source requires a high degree of trust and collaboration among relative equals (plus a few high-level managers who define the scope of a job and make final decisions) can be extended more broadly, even into government.

“For now this is about code, but we can make the burden of decision-making into an opportunity,” he said. “It would be useful if you could capture the process of decision-making, and see who suggested the decisions that created a law or a bill.”

Can this really be extended across a large, complex organization, however?

As complex as an open-source project may be, it is also based on a single, well-defined outcome, and an engineering task that is generally free of concepts like fairness and justice, about which people can debate endlessly. Even on a less lofty plane, companies like GitHub and Asana will ultimately test themselves against complex corporate processes lasting years, and involving skills in both science and the humanities. Google once prided itself on few managers and fast action, but has found that getting big can also involve lots more meetings.

Still, these fast-rising successes may be on to something more than simply universalizing the means of their own good fortune. An ea rly guru of the Information Age, Peter Drucker, wrote often in the latter part of his career of the need for managers to define tasks, and for workers to seek fulfillment before profits.

Daily Report: Online Retailers Push Same-Day Shipping

This holiday season, same-day shipping replaced free shipping as the new must-have promotion for e-commerce companies, Stephanie Clifford and Claire Cain Miller report in Friday's New York Times. Same-day shipping is logistically complicated and money-losing - and may not even be a service that consumers want or need, analysts say. But retailers big and small are willing to take the risk. Even the Postal Service has introduced a same-day option for retailers. And the reason is simple: fear of Amazon.com.

Amazon, the world's biggest online retailer, has hinted that it will expand its same-day shipping service, giving customers the immediate gratification that has been the biggest advantage of brick-and-mortar stores.

Big retailers like Toys “R” Us, Macy's and Target have worked with eBay to deliver items the same day, as have ot her old-line stores. Google has begun testing a local delivery service with several chains.

“There's lots going on in this space, and it's all driven by Amazon,” said Tom Allason, founder and chief executive of Shutl, a British same-day delivery service that will expand to the United States next year. “It's not really being driven by consumers at the moment.”

The same-day delivery idea was a spectacular failure during the dot-com boom. Companies like Kozmo.com and Webvan went under because the services simply cost too much to be profitable. Amazon has offered same-day shipping since 2009, but with limits - only in big cities near Amazon warehouses on certain items ordered in the morning.

The geographical limits exist because Amazon had built warehouses far from major cities to avoid charging sales tax in certain states. But it has now given in on the sales tax fight, and in return, is erecting warehouses near cities like San Francisco, which analyst s say is paving the way for faster, more widespread same-day delivery and spurring competitors.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Video of Fatal Shooting at West Bank Checkpoint Shows Officer\'s Final Shot

Security-camera footage of a shooting at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron this month, provided to Israel's Channel 10 by the Israel Defense Forces.

Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, wrote to The Lede on Thursday to draw our attention to the fact that more video of a fatal shooting at a checkpoint in Hebron this month has been posted online.

As The Lede reported last week, when the Israel Defense Forces relea sed security-camera footage of an Israeli officer killing a 17-year-old Palestinian at the checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Dec. 12, activists and bloggers in the region asked why the video had been edited before release.

On Wednesday, a correspondent for Israel's Channel 10 uploaded what appears to be unedited video of the encounter at the checkpoint to his personal YouTube channel. According to the correspondent, Roy Sharon, the security-camera footage, which includes 19 seconds omitted from the edit posted on an Israeli military channel last week, was “raw material provided by the I.D.F. Spokesperson's unit.”

The longer version of the footage displays a time stamp indicating that it was recorded on Dec. 12, from 8:09 p.m. to 8:10 p.m. The unedited recording includes about 14 seconds that was cut from the middle of the version released by the military last week and another five seconds that was trimmed from the end of the encounter.

The newly released video of the end of the incident appears to show that the Israeli officer fired at least three shots at the Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Salameh, after he had already retreated away from the officer he had been fighting with when the first shot was fired. The officer's final shot, which was omitted entirely from the military's edited version, looks to have been fired from some distance, after the boy had doubled over, perhaps from the impact of the earlier shots, and was not close to any of the Israeli officers visible in the footage.

One day after the incident, B'Tselem released video recorded at the checkpoint minutes after the shooting. That footage showed the boy's body on the ground near the guard post and a series of tense encounters between Israeli officers and Palestinian civilians.

Video recorded shortly after the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old Palestinian boy by an Israeli officer at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron.