Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dell's profit, stock drop on weak quarterly report

Some of the computer industry's biggest players — such as IBM Corp., Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. — have wowed Wall Street this fall with stronger-than-expected profits.
Dell Inc. didn't join them Thursday.
The company reported a 54 percent drop in net income and a 15 percent decline in revenue in its latest quarter, both steeper than analysts had forecast.
Dell's shares fell $1.43, or 9 percent, to $14.44 in morning trading Friday.
The numbers show that Dell isn't fully benefiting from the industry's fledgling recovery, even though the company is seeing improvement in some areas.
"We are already seeing more client activity in the last 30 to 60 days than we have in a long time," Michael Dell, the company's CEO, said on a conference call with analysts.
Dell has been hurt more than its peers because of tightened spending by corporations and large government agencies, which make up 80 percent of Dell's revenue.
Meanwhile, rivals such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Acer Inc. have boosted their market share by exploiting their bigger presence in retail stores. That has been a big weapon because consumer interest in little laptops called "netbooks" has helped the PC industry start to pull out of its worst slump in years.
In the last quarter, Acer replaced Dell as the world's No. 2 personal computer maker. Dell has said it is willing to lose some market share rather than lower prices too much. That is a key part of Dell's strategy to improve profitability — an effort that has included a huge restructuring.
Dell's work force was trimmed by 9,300 last year to 78,900 at the end of January, the last time the company gave employment figures. It also has changed the way it makes and sells computers, leaning more on contract manufacturers and retailers instead of doing everything in house.
Dell is also trying to expand into more profitable markets through acquisitions. The most significant is Perot Systems Corp., a technology-services company that Dell is buying for $3.9 billion. The deal is a move against HP, which paid $13.9 billion for another services company, Electronic Data Systems Corp.
The changes haven't been enough to lift Dell's profit. Net income fell to $337 million, or 17 cents per share, in its latest quarter, which ended Oct. 30. That compares with $727 million, or 37 cents a share, in the same period a year ago.
Revenue fell 15 percent to $12.9 billion.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected Dell to earn 28 cents per share on $13.2 billion in revenue in the latest quarter.
Dell, which is based in Round Rock, Texas, said it expects revenue in the current period to be better than in the prior quarter, but it attributes that to the seasonal benefit of consumers buying PCs around the holidays.
Dell's restructuring hasn't won over investors. The stock has fallen more than 30 percent over the last two years. Its shares fell 92 cents to $14.95 in extended trading after the earnings report.
HP reports its quarterly numbers Monday. The company has already revealed preliminary results that topped Wall Street's expectations and raised its 2010 guidance.

What is a Hacker?Brian HarveyUniversity of California, Berkeley

In one sense it's silly to argue about the ``true'' meaning of a word. A word means whatever people use it to mean. I am not the Academie Française; I can't force Newsweek to use the word ``hacker'' according to my official definition.
Still, understanding the etymological history of the word ``hacker'' may help in understanding the current social situation.
The concept of hacking entered the computer culture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s. Popular opinion at MIT posited that there are two kinds of students, tools and hackers. A ``tool'' is someone who attends class regularly, is always to be found in the library when no class is meeting, and gets straight As. A ``hacker'' is the opposite: someone who never goes to class, who in fact sleeps all day, and who spends the night pursuing recreational activities rather than studying. There was thought to be no middle ground.
What does this have to do with computers? Originally, nothing. But there are standards for success as a hacker, just as grades form a standard for success as a tool. The true hacker can't just sit around all night; he must pursue some hobby with dedication and flair. It can be telephones, or railroads (model, real, or both), or science fiction fandom, or ham radio, or broadcast radio. It can be more than one of these. Or it can be computers. [In 1986, the word ``hacker'' is generally used among MIT students to refer not to computer hackers but to building hackers, people who explore roofs and tunnels where they're not supposed to be.]
A ``computer hacker,'' then, is someone who lives and breathes computers, who knows all about computers, who can get a computer to do anything. Equally important, though, is the hacker's attitude. Computer programming must be a hobby, something done for fun, not out of a sense of duty or for the money. (It's okay to make money, but that can't be the reason for hacking.)
A hacker is an aesthete.
There are specialties within computer hacking. An algorithm hacker knows all about the best algorithm for any problem. A system hacker knows about designing and maintaining operating systems. And a ``password hacker'' knows how to find out someone else's password. That's what Newsweek should be calling them.
Someone who sets out to crack the security of a system for financial gain is not a hacker at all. It's not that a hacker can't be a thief, but a hacker can't be a professional thief. A hacker must be fundamentally an amateur, even though hackers can get paid for their expertise. A password hacker whose primary interest is in learning how the system works doesn't therefore necessarily refrain from stealing information or services, but someone whose primary interest is in stealing isn't a hacker. It's a matter of emphasis.
Ethics and Aesthetics
Throughout most of the history of the human race, right and wrong were relatively easy concepts. Each person was born into a particular social role, in a particular society, and what to do in any situation was part of the traditional meaning of the role. This social destiny was backed up by the authority of church or state.
This simple view of ethics was destroyed about 200 years ago, most notably by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant is in many ways the inventor of the 20th Century. He rejected the ethical force of tradition, and created the modern idea of autonomy. Along with this radical idea, he introduced the centrality of rational thought as both the glory and the obligation of human beings. There is a paradox in Kant: Each person makes free, autonomous choices, unfettered by outside authority, and yet each person is compelled by the demands of rationality to accept Kant's ethical principle, the Categorical Imperative. This principle is based on the idea that what is ethical for an individual must be generalizable to everyone.
Modern cognitive psychology is based on Kant's ideas. Central to the functioning of the mind, most people now believe, is information processing and rational argument. Even emotions, for many psychologists, are a kind of theorem based on reasoning from data. Kohlberg's theory of moral development interprets moral weakness as cognitive weakness, the inability to understand sophisticated moral reasoning, rather than as a failure of will. Disputed questions of ethics, like abortion, are debated as if they were questions of fact, subject to rational proof.
Since Kant, many philosophers have refined his work, and many others have disagreed with it. For our purpose, understanding what a hacker is, we must consider one of the latter, Sören Kierkegaard (1813-1855). A Christian who hated the established churches, Kierkegaard accepted Kant's radical idea of personal autonomy. But he rejected Kant's conclusion that a rational person is necessarily compelled to follow ethical principles. In the book Either-Or he presents a dialogue between two people. One of them accepts Kant's ethical point of view. The other takes an aesthetic point of view: what's important in life is immediate experience.
The choice between the ethical and the aesthetic is not the choice between good and evil, it is the choice whether or not to choose in terms of good and evil. At the heart of the aesthetic way of life, as Kierkegaard characterises it, is the attempt to lose the self in the immediacy of present experience. The paradigm of aesthetic expression is the romantic lover who is immersed in his own passion. By contrast the paradigm of the ethical is marriage, a state of commitment and obligation through time, in which the present is bound by the past and to the future. Each of the two ways of life is informed by different concepts, incompatible attitudes, rival premises. [MacIntyre, p. 39]
Kierkegaard's point is that no rational argument can convince us to follow the ethical path. That decision is a radically free choice. He is not, himself, neutral about it; he wants us to choose the ethical. But he wants us to understand that we do have a real choice to make. The basis of his own choice, of course, was Christian faith. That's why he sees a need for religious conviction even in the post-Kantian world. But the ethical choice can also be based on a secular humanist faith.
A lesson on the history of philosophy may seem out of place in a position paper by a computer scientist about a pragmatic problem. But Kierkegaard, who lived a century before the electronic computer, gave us the most profound understanding of what a hacker is. A hacker is an aesthete.
The life of a true hacker is episodic, rather than planned. Hackers create ``hacks.'' A hack can be anything from a practical joke to a brilliant new computer program. (VisiCalc was a great hack. Its imitators are not hacks.) But whatever it is, a good hack must be aesthetically perfect. If it's a joke, it must be a complete one. If you decide to turn someone's dorm room upside-down, it's not enough to epoxy the furniture to the ceiling. You must also epoxy the pieces of paper to the desk.
Steven Levy, in the book Hackers, talks at length about what he calls the ``hacker ethic.'' This phrase is very misleading. What he has discovered is the Hacker Aesthetic, the standards for art criticism of hacks. For example, when Richard Stallman says that information should be given out freely, his opinion is not based on a notion of property as theft, which (right or wrong) would be an ethical position. His argument is that keeping information secret is inefficient; it leads to unaesthetic duplication of effort.
The original hackers at MIT-AI were mostly undergraduates, in their late teens or early twenties. The aesthetic viewpoint is quite appropriate to people of that age. An epic tale of passionate love between 20-year-olds can be very moving. A tale of passionate love between 40-year-olds is more likely to be comic. To embrace the aesthetic life is not to embrace evil; hackers need not be enemies of society. They are young and immature, and should be protected for their own sake as well as ours.
In practical terms, the problem of providing moral education to hackers is the same as the problem of moral education in general. Real people are not wholly ethical or wholly aesthetic; they shift from one viewpoint to another. (They may not recognize the shifts. That's why Levy says ``ethic'' when talking about an aesthetic.) Some tasks in moral education are to raise the self-awareness of the young, to encourage their developing ethical viewpoint, and to point out gently and lovingly the situations in which their aesthetic impulses work against their ethical standards.

Personal computer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article is about personal computers in general. For computers generally referred to as PCs, see IBM Personal Computer and IBM PC compatible.

An illustration of a desktop computer
A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end user, with no intervening computer operator. This is in contrast to the batch processing or time-sharing models which allowed large expensive mainframe systems to be used by many people, usually at the same time, or large data processing systems which required a full-time staff to operate efficiently.
A personal computer may be a desktop computer, a laptop, tablet PC or a handheld PC (also called palmtop). The most common microprocessors in personal computers are x86-compatible CPUs. Software applications for personal computers include word processing,spreadsheets, databases, Web browsers and e-mail clients, games, and myriad personal productivity and special-purpose software. Modern personal computers often have high-speed or dial-up connections to the Internet, allowing access to the World Wide Web and a wide range of other resources.
A PC may be used at home, or may be found in an office. Personal computers can be connected to a local area network (LAN) either by a cable or wirelessly.
While early PC owners usually had to write their own programs to do anything useful with the machines, today's users have access to a wide range of commercial and non-commercial software which is provided in ready-to-run form. Since the 1980s, Microsoft and Intel have dominated much of the personal computer market with the Wintel platform.