Weekend News Round-up: Home Depot’s house of pain; Oculus gets very real

22 Sep 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s tech news, senior brass at Home Depot ignored internal warnings that security could be compromised; Peter Thiel’s success is down to skill, not luck, and Oculus disrupts computing.

You make your own luck in this world

The Observer carried an insightful interview with Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir and owner of 10pc of Facebook. Thiel said that it was skill rather than luck that has got him to where he is today.

“I’ve certainly been fortunate and it is hard to actually figure out whether I was skilful at taking advantage of opportunities or just blind luck because you can’t actually run this experiment twice.

“What I do think is that as a society we attribute too much to luck. Luck is like an atheistic word for God: we ascribe things to it that we don’t understand or don’t want to understand. As a venture capitalist, I think one of the most toxic things to do is to treat the people I’m investing in as lottery tickets where I say: ‘Well I don’t know if your business is going to work. It might, it might not.’ I think that’s a horrible way to treat people. The anti-lottery ticket approach is to try to achieve a high level of conviction, to ask: ‘Is this a business that I have enough confidence in that I would consider joining it myself?’”

House of pain

The New York Times reported that despite warnings from computer experts inside the company US home improvement chain Home Depot ignored advice and failed to secure its systems sufficiently.

“But despite alarms as far back as 2008, Home Depot was slow to raise its defenses, according to former employees. On Thursday, the company confirmed what many had feared: The biggest data breach in retailing history had compromised 56 million of its customers’ credit cards. The data has popped up on black markets and, by one estimate, could be used to make $3 billion in illegal purchases.

“Yet long before the attack came to light this month, Home Depot’s handling of its computer security was a record of missteps, the former employees said. Interviews with former members of the company’s cybersecurity team — who spoke on the condition they not be named, because they still work in the industry — suggest the company was slow to respond to early threats and only belatedly took action.”

Shiny appy people

Whether its Uber, Hailo or Handy, the question is are these apps created solely to assuage the needs of a growing tech elite and pretty much ignore the needs of ordinary people who don’t have the resources to enjoy such services, asked TechCrunch.

“When one’s life is easy, even the little things seem more difficult. And that’s frankly pretty offensive to those of us who know what true struggle looks like. But when your time is more valuable than your money, it’s worthwhile to pay for the help: someone to fold your laundry, clean your house, drive you around and buy your groceries.

“And, of course, there are those who vilify the new suite of apps claiming they’re built by and for a sort of vapid elite — for the Silicon Valley kids who are trying to put ‘mom’ in app form because they never learned to separate the colors and whites when doing laundry, or because they’d rather be on their iPhones than talk to people or drive, or because they can’t figure out how often to restock the toilet paper.”

Music industry needs a Miracle Drug

The Guardian’s Charles Arthur says that while the online world’s reaction to U2 and Apple having the audacity to give them a free album may seem a little perverse, the reality is this could be the future of music as we know it.

“Yet to judge by the howls when Apple made the latest album free to download to all of the 800m or so iTunes account holders (by automatically adding it to their “Purchased” folder), there’s nothing the internet hates more than getting music for free. Especially if, in the case of people who have “automatically download new purchases” turned on, the music appears in their music folders. (For everyone else, it is simply sitting as a potential, but unrealised, download.)

“So what’s going on, internet? Do you like getting U2 music for free, or not? Actually, and as so often, the howls came from a minority – as you can tell by the fact that all of U2’s other albums immediately shot back into the charts. But those outside the fanbase seemed to throw a collective grump. And those who get their kicks from purloining stuff that they’re expected to pay for were especially grumpy. How very dare the music industry make something available for free that it usually gets people to pay for. And what a wicked notion to get the world’s most valuable company to bear the costs of buying it (Apple is said to have kicked in $100m on this). It’s much more wicked than Samsung spending $5m on Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail last year to make it available to a million Galaxy smartphone owners … isn’t it?”

Virtually real!

The speed of change in computing has always been legendary, but the speed of change being ushered in through technologies on the virtual reality front via companies like Oculus are simply mind bending. The Wall Street Journal reported on how the very fabric of tech conferences is being disrupted by Oculus.

“Oculus leapt to the forefront of the nascent field when it was acquired by Facebook in March for US$2 billion. Saturday, attendees at Oculus Connect, the company’s first conference, lined up to try the new device, nicknamed ‘Crescent Bay,’ hoping to escape into impossible, dream-like dimensions in ways that weren’t possible five years ago, or even five days ago.

“Developers didn’t set up booths. Instead, they sat on the floor with hardware meant to work with Oculus or software that can be used on the device, offering demonstrations of varying quality to anyone who walked by.

“The conference was largely unscripted and unpolished, adding to the excitement for the engineers. They say virtual reality is a corner of technology where there’s still a sense of wonder and unlimited opportunity.”

Home depot image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years