Stories
October 24, 2019
Mark Hurd was in his element at Indian Wells.



The tennis tournament -- more formally known as the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California -- provided him with the perfect backdrop to flex his passions: tennis and selling stuff. Hurd turned the event, which Oracle Corp. co-founder Larry Ellison bought in 2009, into a two-week database and software sales extravaganza. He could be seen strolling the grounds or at nearby hotels constantly schmoozing with customers and using his connections with tennis legends like Chris Evert and Rafael Nadal to win people over and help close a deal. Along the way, Hurd, Oracle's co-CEO, would sneak in a hit -- he had a big serve and liked to flaunt it -- or check on the American college players he was mentoring and the young pros he was quietly helping with financial aid. For Hurd, business and pleasure were one and the same and almost always intermixed in his life.
October 24, 2019
The moon is all the rage these days. China wants to send people there. So too does the United States and NASA. In fact, just about every country with a space program has some sort of lunar ambition that they hope will play out over the next few years.

Now, there's a new entrant in this new space race, a nonprofit organization called the Open Lunar Foundation. Based in San Francisco, it's a group made up of tech executives and engineers -- many of them with former ties to NASA -- who have serious ambitions to create a lunar settlement.
October 24, 2019
Rocket Lab has sent seven spacecraft into Earth's orbit, an impressive feat for a 13-year-old company. Now it wants to get those rockets back.

Peter Beck, the founder and chief executive officer of the rocket maker, outlined a plan Tuesday to develop small, reusable rockets. Rather than use thrusters to help the rockets land as they reenter the atmosphere, Rocket Lab will deploy parachutes and then catch the rocket body in midair with a helicopter. It's a daring idea and one that goes against Beck's previous suggestion that reuse wasn't technologically feasible. “Unfortunately, I find myself in the position of eating my hat,” Beck said onstage at a space industry conference.
October 24, 2019
Behind every self-driving car or cashier-less Amazon Go convenience store sit thousands of humans whose job it is to train computers to see. These people look at pictures and identify what's in the footage, labeling something as a truck or a bag of Doritos. Their observations are fed back into artificial intelligence software that then learns how to do the same thing over time. It's the drudgery behind the magic.
October 24, 2019
The robot sailboat is called #1020. It's a lackluster moniker for a machine that just spent seven months battling its way through 12,500 miles of frigid, massive waves to circumnavigate Antarctica. The robot, made by startup Saildrone, is the first of its kind to complete the harrowing journey. More important, it's the only scientific vehicle to have captured such a detailed environmental picture of the state of the Southern Ocean, bringing back data that could be key to our understanding of climate change.
October 24, 2019
There's a photo of J.B. Straubel from 2004 that has become part of Tesla lore. It was taken back when the company was more of a hopeful concept than an actual carmaker. He's in the backyard of his house, hand-gluing lithium ion batteries to a case as part of the arts and crafts project that was Tesla's first vehicle. Straubel, the company's longtime chief technology officer, looks the part of the youthful, eager, problem-solving engineer who has no idea of the hell that's coming for him, and that's exactly what he was. Of course, that version of Straubel also could never have imagined the heights he would achieve.
October 24, 2019
Elon Musk has had a lot to show off over the past 25 years, including an early online bank, solar roof tiles, a tunnel-digging machine, an electric car, a reusable rocket, and even the occasional electric car riding a rocket. He may have just topped them all with the help of a tubby brown-and-white rat.
The rodent belongs to Neuralink, a company Musk founded to develop a data transmission system between people and computers. Neuralink has been supersecretive about the nature of its work since its founding in 2017, until now. During its first demonstration in front of a reporter, the startup showed it can record a rat's brain activity via thousands of tiny electrodes surgically implanted alongside the animal's neurons and synapses. To do this, Neuralink, based in San Francisco, appears to have achieved a number of breakthroughs that let it place high-speed computing systems inside a brain, while causing less damage than existing techniques.
BOTTOM LINE - The Neuralink team says it's about ready to test its brain implants on human patients, but first it'll have to persuade the FDA, and some patients.
October 24, 2019
A few years ago, reporter Sarah McBride noticed that a top engineer at Twitter was also an expert on the brains of birds. Then, more and more, she started seeing that many top tech companies have bird brain experts in their highest ranks -- that includes Apple, Google, Intel and a secretive startup founded by Elon Musk. This week on Decrypted, Sarah and fellow reporter Ashlee Vance set out to understand why Silicon Valley is so interested in avian minds, and what they could tell us about tech's ability to influence our own.

Want to hear more? Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and Pocket Casts for new episodes every week. Decrypted is a podcast that uncovers the hidden projects, quiet rivalries and uncomfortable truths in the global technology industry.
October 24, 2019
Jaguar is a mouse. He lives at Harvard's Rowland Institute, where, from time to time, he plays video games on a rig that looks like it belongs in A Clockwork Orange. Metal bars position him inside a small platform in front of a metal lever; his mission is to find a virtual box's edges by feel. To do this, he reaches with his right paw to grab the joystick, which can rotate 360 degrees, and maneuvers it until he feels feedback from the machine. When he reaches the right target area -- say, an edge of the box -- a tube rewards him with a dribble of sugar water.
October 24, 2019
DJI, the world's largest drone maker, has come down to Earth.
On June 11, the company most closely associated with quadcopters plans to unveil a toaster-size robotic tank called the RoboMaster S1. Made of plastic and metal, it has four wheels, a rectangular base, and a gun turret that can swivel and fire lasers or tiny plastic pellets. Unlike DJI's flying drones, which do everything from taking pretty pictures to fertilizing fields, the RoboMaster is part teaching tool and part battle bot. The odd contraption ships as a kit that people must assemble, learning about robotics and software along the way.
BOTTOM LINE - Kids may not love the assembly or cleanup portions of the RoboMaster S1 experience, but it's tough to argue with the fun of a living room battle between minitanks.
October 24, 2019
The scene played out much like you see on television, only scarier. It was May 2017, and a fight between young Palestinian men and Israel Defense Forces soldiers broke out on a street in Ramallah. A handful of troops were barricaded behind two military vehicles stopped in the middle of the road, and now and again the young Palestinian men would rush up, sling rocks at the soldiers, then retreat. This back-and-forth went on for 20 minutes before the youngsters grew more brazen, lighting a dumpster on fire and pushing it toward the IDF position. Standing amid other onlookers on a dry, scrub-covered hill about 100 yards away, I wondered what would happen next, when a flood of IDF soldiers appeared out of nowhere. They peppered the area with rubber bullets and charged the Palestinians and those of us on the hill. People ran for cover. The acrid smell of tear gas hit nostrils. Ambulances reversed in haste with bleeding rock hurlers inside.
October 24, 2019
Maybe you're tired of sharing a studio apartment with five other coders. Or perhaps WeWork's beer selection no longer inspires big thoughts. Or maybe you're just a restless multimillionaire who simply wants to be rich somewhere else. Whatever the case, New Zealand has the immigration system for you. The country's Global Impact Visa is as much about intellectual renewal and generating positive vibes as economic impact. You can live in New Zealand or not, do business in New Zealand or not, and stay in New Zealand at the end of the visa term or not. The main requirements, which were set when the program was established two years ago, are that you're an interesting person with good intentions and good ideas and that you know lots of other interesting people with good intentions and good ideas.
October 24, 2019
Google's long-running quest has been “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This corporate mantra focuses, for the most part, on arranging and analyzing data produced by humans, be it websites, books, calendar appointments, or the location of businesses around a city. But what if instead of gathering the world's information from the ground up, you could begin organizing all of that data from above by looking down at Planet Earth itself? This has been the mission of Orbital Insight.
October 24, 2019
OneWeb -- fresh off launching its first batch of satellites -- has pulled in another huge round of funding as it seeks to build a worldwide internet system delivered from space.

On Monday, the seven-year-old startup announced that it had just raised $1.25 billion, bringing its total investment to date to $3.4 billion. SoftBank Group Corp., Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies Inc. and the Government of Rwanda led the latest round, while Virgin Group, Coca-Cola and Airbus are existing investors. “We are committed to bridging the digital divide, and this funding helps ensure our globally shared dream will soon become a reality,” said Greg Wyler, the founder of OneWeb, in a statement.
October 24, 2019
Richard Branson had snuck off into the corner of the room to buy a peaceful moment, but his scraggly blond mane and thick goatee are the opposite of a disguise. One by one, people approach, apologize for approaching, then rotate their bodies into a hug as they raise their phones for their obligatory photos. Branson can't escape the steady stream of selfie takers, even at another company's rocket launch.
October 24, 2019
A thunderous crackle ripped through the Amazon rain forest Wednesday evening, carrying with it the notion that the world is entering a new, even more connected age.

Just as the sun set here in Kourou, on the coast of French Guiana, a rocket provided by Arianespace SA lifted off and thrust six satellites made by OneWeb Systems Inc. into orbit. About two hours later, OneWeb said the satellites deployed well. The washing machine-sized devices are the first of thousands designed to bring high-speed internet service to more than three billion people who can't get it today.
October 24, 2019
For two decades, biotech companies trying to tackle Alzheimer's disease have had little success. While vaccines have often shown promise for certain patients, they've come with devastating side effects for others -- brain swelling, for example -- because researchers haven't been able to reliably keep patients' immune systems from kicking into overdrive when exposed to the vaccines. Now, a four-year old Dublin startup believes it may be on to something.
October 24, 2019
An idyllic ease permeates California's Carmel Valley. Wealthy people have built ranch-style houses into the mountains, giving them views of the Pacific on one side and pine and cypress forests on the other. It's neither too hot nor too cold, and the fresh ocean air makes you feel calm inside. These conditions, which give big ideas room to grow, have attracted artists to the area, as well as retirees who want to meditate on the good life. But every now and then, the gentle rhythm of this place gets disturbed. Someone's perfectly manicured existence goes in a turbulent, unexpected direction.
October 24, 2019
Cheap, quick access to space has officially arrived -- and in some serious style.

On a late Sunday afternoon in New Zealand, Rocket Lab successfully launched its third rocket. Dozens of employees gathered at the company's headquarters in Auckland clad in Rocket Lab's black-and-red colors and let out a series of primordial screams as the rocket took off, flew into space and dropped its satellite payload into orbit.
October 24, 2019
Despite the recent assassination of a journalist by Saudi Arabian agents and an ensuing global controversy, Masayoshi Son and his Saudi-backed SoftBank Vision Fund appear as bold and extravagant as ever. On Friday, the investment firm plans to announce it has sunk $1.1 billion into View Inc., a Silicon Valley-based maker of glass used in internet-connected windowpanes.

View's technology allows customers to control the level of tinting in so-called smart windows. This sort of “dynamic glass” can help lower cooling costs and remove the need for blinds or other accessories. It took View about a decade to develop this new kind of glass, and its sales to airports, hospitals and office buildings have taken off over the past couple years.
October 24, 2019
Last December, Steve Ballmer found himself in a highly unusual situation: He had time on his hands. It was disconcerting. He was the chief executive of Microsoft, waiting for the company's board to name a successor, and he didn't want to take on anything major that would get in the new guy's way. So he stayed home and binge-watched TV. He plowed through 100 episodes of The Good Wife in about two weeks. “My kids teased me about it mercilessly,” he says. “They said, 'Dad, how's the wife?'” He watched mostly in bed -- on a Microsoft Surface, of course -- and says he wasn't depressed. “'Depressed' makes it sound like something bad. It was more like, 'Wow, this is weird. I have nothing to worry about right this minute.'”

He's saying this in October, while sitting in a tiny office at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he teaches classes a couple of days a week. The funk is long gone. Dressed in khakis and a bright green polo shirt, he's pacing around, gesticulating emphatically, poking me in the shoulder -- hard -- as he talks about life after Microsoft.
October 24, 2019
On a Tuesday evening this spring, Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, became part man and part machine. About 40 people, all gathered here at a NASA campus for a nine-day, $15,000 course at Singularity University, saw it happen.

While the flesh-and-blood version of Mr. Brin sat miles away at a computer capable of remotely steering a robot, the gizmo rolling around here consisted of a printer-size base with wheels attached to a boxy, head-height screen glowing with an image of Mr. Brin's face. The BrinBot obeyed its human commander and sputtered around from group to group, talking to attendees about Google and other topics via a videoconferencing system.
October 24, 2019
As the sun rose over the mountains circling Los Reyes, a town in the Mexican state of Michoac'n, one morning in March 2009, a caravan of more than 300 heavily armed law enforcement agents set out on a raid.

All but the lead vehicle turned off their headlights to evade lookouts, called “falcons,” who work for La Familia Michoacana, the brutal Mexican cartel that controls the drug trade. This time, the police weren't hunting for a secret stash of drugs, guns or money. Instead, they looked to crack down on La Familia's growing counterfeit software ring.
October 24, 2019
On July 16th 1945 the skies of New Mexico lit up and a thunderous roar whooshed across the desert. Los Alamos National Laboratory has been living ever since on the reputation it won from that history-changing event, the explosion of the first atomic bomb. But smugness can breed complacency, and complacency carelessness. In recent years the laboratory has been in the news not for its successes but its failures. A series of farcical events, ranging from secret data going missing (only to be discovered behind a copying machine) to false charges of espionage being laid against an American scientist of Chinese descent, led the then director, Pete Nanos, to describe his staff as “cowboys” and “butt-heads”, and to close the place down for seven months in 2004, to try to clean things up.
October 24, 2019
Semiconductors: A new recipe involving a hitherto obscure element is the latest way to make microprocessors even faster
October 24, 2019
The team in charge of tracking Facebook's growth works on the second floor of Building 17. Most days, the offices are like anywhere else at Facebook: whiteboards, toys on desks, shorts and flip-flops, pretty low-key. Around noon on Sept. 14, the second floor was packed. In one of the common areas, a giant screen showed the number of active Facebook users worldwide. About 100 people, including Mark Zuckerberg and his top lieutenants, watched the numbers run up by about a thousand users per minute: 999,980,000; 999,990,000; 1,000,000,000. The counter paused for a moment when it rounded 10 digits, as if to emphasize the point: 1 billion users.
October 24, 2019
In the early morning hours of May 24, an armed burglar wearing a ski mask broke into the offices of Nicira Networks, a Silicon Valley startup housed in one of the countless nondescript buildings along Highway 101. He walked past desks littered with laptops and headed straight toward the cubicle of one of the company's top engineers. The assailant appeared to know exactly what he wanted, which was a bulky computer that stored Nicira's source code. He grabbed the one machine and fled. The whole operation lasted five minutes, according to video captured on an employee's webcam. Palo Alto Police Sergeant Dave Flohr describes the burglary as a run-of-the-mill Silicon Valley computer grab. “There are lots of knuckleheads out there that take what they can and leave,” he says. But two people close to the company say that they, as well as national intelligence investigators now looking into the case, suspect something more sinister: a professional heist performed by someone with ties to China or Russia. The burglar didn't want a computer he could sell on Craigslist. He wanted Nicira's ideas.
October 24, 2019
After the math department at the University of Texas noticed some of its Dell computers failing, Dell examined the machines. The company came up with an unusual reason for the computers' demise: the school had overtaxed the machines by making them perform difficult math calculations.

Dell, however, had actually sent the university, in Austin, desktop PCs riddled with faulty electrical components that were leaking chemicals and causing the malfunctions. Dell sold millions of these computers from 2003 to 2005 to major companies like Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo, institutions like the Mayo Clinic and small businesses.
October 24, 2019
The print hanging behind the receptionist's desk at Foundation Capital screams, “Our greatest thrill is to loan you money” in chunky, capitalized red letters. That's encouraging news for Michael Bauer, because he wants money and has put himself in a prime position to get it.

Mr. Bauer has set up shop on the second floor of Foundation Capital's offices here to pursue his dream of creating an energy company from scratch. He pays no rent to operate out of the building, which is designed to evoke a Mediterranean villa. And he's free to enjoy all the trappings of this venture capital firm, including its ample parking, woodsy surroundings and outdoor patio.
October 24, 2019
CAMBRIDGE, Mass -- Dr. Jeff Lichtman likes his brains sliced thin -- very, very thin.

Dr. Lichtman and his team of researchers at Harvard have built some unusual contraptions that carve off slivers of mouse brains as part of a quest to understand how the mind works. Their goal is to run slice after minuscule slice under a powerful electron microscope, develop detailed pictures of the brain's complex wiring and then stitch the images back together. In short, they want to build a full map of the mind.
October 24, 2019
It's 6 in the morning here in California, and things have turned palpable.

In thirty minutes, VMware's IPO (initial public offering) goes live. Call it the second coming of Google or the third coming of Netscape. This baby will rock the software world.

VMware - trading on the NYSE under VMW - looks to ship 33m shares at $29 each. That leaves the server virtualization maker hoping to bring in $957m. Most indications have the company blowing past that figure and igniting a Silicon Valley boom. At least, that's what the likes of Citi, JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank want us to believe.
October 24, 2019
Drive a couple of blocks past the Loose Caboose and the Carburetor Shop on E. Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas, and you'll find one of the world's leading technology companies. The name of the company - Switch Communications - will go unrecognized by almost all of you. That's because it has operated in near total secrecy for the last few years. Switch has preferred to keep its gold mine a need-to-know type of affair. "Pay no attention to the secure fortress in the strip mall."
October 24, 2019
This is a story about ARM Holdings, the mobile technology company. But before it gets going, here are a few things you need to know: 1. ARM is a company made up mostly of chip engineers. They design parts of chips -- such as graphics and communication bits -- and they design entire chips. 2. ARM sells these designs and licenses its chip architecture to dozens of companies, including Apple, Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm, and Nvidia. 3. As a result, just about every smartphone, mobile phone, and tablet runs on an ARM chip. 4. In fact, you can argue that ARM-based products are now the most-used consumer products in the world, outflanking even Coca-Cola and McDonald's by some measures. (I recently made just such an argument.) 5. A great many people have not heard of ARM. This is because the company has largely kept to itself from a headquarters in Cambridge, England. 6. Its anonymity is sort of incredible when you think about it, considering that ARM has arguably had a more profound effect on modern living than just about any other company.
October 24, 2019
Last June, three men squeezed inside a wind turbine in China's Gobi Desert. They were employees of American Superconductor Corp., a Devens (Mass.)-based maker of computer systems that serve as the electronic brains of wind turbines. From time to time, AMSC workers are required to head out to a wind farm in some desolate location -- that's where the wind usually is -- to check on the equipment, do maintenance, make repairs, and keep the customers happy.
October 24, 2019
The public knows only one version of Steve Ballmer: the blustery salesman, sweating and booming away and trying to rally Microsoft employees or win over investors. It's not our fault that we think of Ballmer in this way; it's his. He put on so many of these performances that he turned into a caricature. Yet, when you hear Ballmer reflect on his cheerleader persona, you know the public image of the man is incomplete.
October 24, 2019
Maria Sharapova is in a pretty good mood for someone who might be about to lose a tournament. It's mid-March and she's just made the two-hour drive from her beachfront home in Los Angeles to the desert town of Indian Wells, Calif., the site of the BNP Paribas Open. The tournament is owned by Larry Ellison, the software mogul and seventh-richest person in the world. In the past five years, through $100 million of upgrades and the help of sponsors such as Rolex and Emirates Airline, he's turned it into one of the premier stops on the men's and women's tour.

“It's a bit more personal for me to come here,” Sharapova, 28, says of Indian Wells. “I have a lot of friends and family who come to watch.” The exception is her Pomeranian, Dolce, who stays at home because of the dry conditions. “It's not good for his hair.”
October 24, 2019
Amid a devastating drought, the Southern California town of Indian Wells seems like it should perhaps be illegal. Left alone, the ground here is baked and cracked and the same color brown as the barren mountains that surround this enclave of 5,000, many of whom are wealthy, white, and retired. But there aren't that many spots where the ground remains in its natural state. Indian Wells is a vacation paradise full of resorts with luscious green golf courses, vibrant flower gardens, and abundant pools. Some resorts even have sandy beach wading areas for the grandchildren. The weather is perfect eight months of the year.
October 23, 2019
At 21, Gennady Vladimirovich Korotkevich is already a legend. Tourist, as he's known online, is now the world's top sport programmer. He competes against other people to solve coding puzzles, and he's darn good at it. Perhaps too good.

"Probably the only person making a living at sport programming is Gennady because he wins so many of the competitions," says Vladimir Novakovski, a retired sport programmer who still follows the competitions closely. “We've never seen anyone like him.”
October 23, 2019
The conversation, combined with Linus Torvalds's aggression behind the wheel, makes this sunny afternoon drive suddenly feel all too serious. Torvalds -- the grand ruler of all geeks -- does not drive like a geek. He plasters his foot to the pedal of a yellow Mercedes convertible with its “DAD OF 3” license plate as we rip around a corner on a Portland, Ore., freeway. My body smears across the passenger door. “There is no concrete plan of action if I die,” Torvalds yells to me over the wind and the traffic. “But that would have been a bigger deal 10 or 15 years ago. People would have panicked. Now I think they'd work everything out in a couple of months.”
October 23, 2019
They're either hapless pests or the very people capable of overthrowing Windows. Take your pick.

In December, hundreds of these controversial software developers gathered for one week at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. They came from all over the world, sporting many of the usual signs of software mercenaries: jeans, ponytails, unruly facial hair and bloodshot eyes.

But rather than preparing to code for the highest bidder, the developers were coordinating their largely volunteer effort to try to undermine Microsoft's Windows operating system for PCs, which generated close to $17 billion in sales last year.

All the fuss at the meeting centered on something called Ubuntu and a man named Mark Shuttleworth, the charismatic 35-year-old billionaire from South Africa who functions as the spiritual and financial leader of this coding clan.
Developed by Ashutosh Rai