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After Aaron Swartz

Brilliant young hackers, striving to build tools to change the world, are killing themselves. Just last week: Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit and fierce open access activist, took his life at 26. There have been other high-profile suicides in the tech world in recent years: Ilya Zhitomirskiy, co-founder of the distributed social network Diaspora, dead at 22. Len Sassaman, a highly-regarded cypherpunk who believed in cryptography and privacy as tools of freedom, dead at 31. Dan Haubert, co-founder of the Y-Combinator funded startup Ticketstumbler, dead at 25. If these young men were like the 100 people who kill themselves in this country every day, the biggest factor contributing to their deaths was likely under-treated depression.

We can readily come up with hypotheses as to why depression is a problem in the tech world. It’s a culture defined by ruthless pressure, high stakes, and risky gambles. Often hiding behind pseudo-anonymity, lightning fast criticisms are released online with bullet speed. Then there’s the “thrashing duck” syndrome: to survive in the startup ecosystem you have to puff up your chest and show only how smoothly you’re gliding through the water; you don’t show how furiously your legs are kicking and struggling underneath. There’s also the hero archetype of the lone hacker: he’s coding through the night, living on red bulls, sleeping on a couch at AOL to save money, not thinking about short-term wealth, and surely not thinking about health, be it physical or mental.

As a clinical psychologist married to a hacker, I do not find this to be okay. On a human level, there is widespread pain and suffering lying silent and unaddressed. On a societal level, we are losing brilliant young minds, activists and role models with so much left to contribute to the world.

I am not saying depression and suicide are necessarily higher in this community compared to other populations; there isn’t enough data to say that. The rub to me is this: one of the most effective and scientifically-backed treatments for depression appears to be an incredible fit for hackers, and yet few people know about it. It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and it has some of its origins in computer science.

Born out of the cognitive revolution of the 1950s, a key idea within cognitive psychology is that by studying how computers input, store, and process information, it becomes possible to make testable inferences about the nature of the human mind. Cognitive behavioral therapists (most typically clinical psychologists with research backgrounds) mirror hackers in how they see the world and approach problems. They share the same core values: an emphasis on problem solving as efficiently and effectively as possible, gathering data to test out what works and what doesn’t, using logic to debug a system, and implementing transparent methods that others can understand and replicate as opposed simply to putting your faith in a “magic black box.” CBT and hackers are long lost kindred spirits, yearning to be reunited.

Tech wrap: Zappos hacked

Online shoe retailer Zappos told customers this weekend that it has been the victim of a cyber attack affecting more than 24 million customer accounts in its database. The popular retailer, which is owned by Amazon.com, said customers’ names, email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of credit card numbers and scrambled passwords were stolen. The company, which is well known for its customer service, said due to the high volume of customer calls it is expecting it will temporarily switch off its phones and direct customers to contact via email.

Hackers disrupted online access to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, El Al Airlines and three banks in what the government described as a cyber-offensive against Israel. The attacks came just days after an unidentified hacker, proclaiming Palestinian sympathies, posted the details of thousands of Israeli credit card holders and other personal information on the Internet in a mass theft. Israel opened an agency to tackle cyber attacks earlier this month.

A hacker who goes by the name of “Yama Tough” threatened Saturday to release the full source code for Symantec’s flagship Norton Antivirus software on Tuesday. Last week, Yama Tough released fragments of source code from Symantec products along with a cache of emails. The hacker said all the data was taken from Indian government servers.

Tech wrap: Samsung savors smartphone supremacy

Samsung Electronics, the world’s top maker of memory chips and smartphones, reported a record quarterly profit, aided by one-off gains and best-ever sales of high-end phones. The South Korean firm posted 5.2 trillion won ($4.5 billion) in quarterly operating profit, beating a consensus forecast of 4.7 trillion won by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Samsung, which surged past Apple as the world’s top smartphone maker in the third quarter, only entered the smartphone market in earnest in 2010, but its handset division is now its biggest earnings generator.

Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC recorded a worse-than-expected yearly profit decline in the fourth quarter, and the first decline in two years. The former investor darling shocked markets in November by slashing its fourth-quarter revenue guidance, sending its shares down 28 percent in two weeks and 15 percent to date. Investor concerns linger over whether HTC still has the innovative streak that catapulted it from an obscure contract maker to a top brand.

Sony will promote its consumer business chief Kazuo Hirai to the role of president as early as April, taking the title away from Howard Stringer, who is expected to remain chairman and CEO, the Nikkei newspaper reported. Such a move would give Hirai, 51, who made his name in Sony’s PlayStation video game division, more influence over the whole company and its wide range of technology and entertainment businesses, likely cementing expectations he would succeed the 69-year-old Stringer eventually.

Tech wrap: Is Groupon’s IPO window closing?

As the Nasdaq Composite index continued its week-long tailspin, tech investors and analysts are wondering what the stock plunge could mean for the pending IPOs of companies like Groupon and Zynga.

The coming week, which has about a dozen IPOs scheduled to price, will be a good test of the severity of the selloff, according to Nick Einhorn, an analyst at Connecticut-based IPO research house Renaissance Capital. “Less mature, less profitable companies could have a tougher time going public,” Einhorn told Reuters.

If there was to be another recession, writes Investor Place’s Tom Taulli, “the IPO market will freeze up. It will mostly be only standout companies – such as Zynga and Facebook – that will get traction. A company like Groupon, which has substantial losses, may have to delay its offering or cut the valuation.”

from Ask...:

How should we respond to the “enormous” cyber attacks?

Security company McAfee uncovered a series of attacks on the networks of 72 organizations including the U.N., governments and companies around the world and said there was one "state actor" behind them.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Tech wrap: Panasonic profits shaken by quake

Japan’s Panasonic Corp forecast on Monday its full-year operating profit would drop 11 percent to 270 billion yen ($3.4 billion) in the year to March 2012, after the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan hit production and sales. Like many of its rivals, Panasonic delayed its profit forecast due to lack of clarity about the effects of the quake.

Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue will total roughly $2.2 billion in 2011, displacing Yahoo Inc to collect the biggest slice of online display advertising dollars, according to a new study. Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue will give it a 17.7 percent share of the market for graphical display ads that appear on websites, according to a report released on Monday by research firm eMarketer.

The Internet body that oversees domain names voted on Monday to end restricting them to suffixes like .com or .gov and will receive applications for new names from January 12 next year with the first approvals likely by the end of 2012. Experts say corporations should be among the first to register, resulting in domain names ending in brands like .toyota, .apple or .coke. Besides the $185,000 to apply, individuals or organizations will have to show a legitimate claim to the names they are buying.

Tech wrap: The Web is about to get some new domains

Brand owners will soon be able to operate their own parts of the Web — such as .apple, .coke or .marlboro — if the biggest shake-up yet in how Internet domains are awarded is approved.

Today, just 22 generic top-level domains exist — .com, .org and .info are a few examples — plus about 250 country-level domains like .uk or .cn.

The move is seen as a big opportunity for brands to gain more control over their online presence and send visitors more directly to parts of their sites — and a danger for those who fail to take advantage.

Tech wrap: Samsung to take smartphone crown

Samsung will become the world’s largest smartphone maker this quarter followed by Apple, overtaking struggling Nokia which has lead the market since 1996, Nomura said. Research firms Gartner and Canalys both said they saw Nokia — which created the smartphone market with its 1996 launch of the Communicator model — losing smartphone volume leadership later this year.

Facebook is preparing to file for an initial public offering as early as October or November that could value the social networking site at more than $100 billion, CNBC reported. Goldman Sachs is leading the chase to manage the offering, which could come in the first quarter of 2012, CNBC said.

The Wall Street Journal’s Shira Ovide sums up what is known about Facebook’s IPO. Perhaps one of the most interesting facts is only a couple dozen U.S. companies, such as Exxon Mobil, GE and J.P. Morgan Chase, have stock-market values above $100 billion.

Twitter + Georgian blogger + South Ossetia = Hack Attack

If you were miffed at not being able to tweet your innermost thoughts and random musings to your followers yesterday, or post that smartypants comment on a friend’s Facebook status update, blame politics. Turns out the reason why Twitter was knocked down for hours, while Facebook users had trouble logging in and posting to their profiles on Thursday was a Georgian blogger who uses both services.

According to CNET, which cites Facebook’s chief security officer Max Kelly, the blogger also has accounts in LiveJournal and Google’s Blogger and YouTube platforms, and goes by the name of Cyxymu, which is the name of a town in Georgia. Kelly told CNET:

“It was a simultaneous attack across a number of properties targeting him to keep his voice from being heard.”

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s expected underwear

Even at a difficult moment, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone managed to be witty.

It fell to Stone to write about the hacker who broke in to the company’s computers and stole sensitive business information. His blog on the matter — the official statement from Twitter — was dubbed “Twitter, even more open than we wanted.”

Someone sent a trove of the Twitter documents to the Silicon Valley website TechCrunch. Stone’s blog clarified puzzling statements on TechCrunch that seemed to point toward Google Docs as the problem.  Said Stone: “This has nothing to do with any vulnerability in Google Apps which we continue to use.”

That must have come as a welcome relief at Google, which had been trying to explain the robustness of its security even as press agents for obscure security experts sent emails to suggest otherwise, so their clients would get a mention.