Mt. Gox is Mt. Gone

The Bitcoin exchange has filed for bankruptcy protection.

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You can’t say no one didn’t see this coming. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. Mt. Gox has filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan after losing what has been validated at 750K customer owned Bitcoins and 100K Bitcoins of its own. The losses represent approximately $474M based on a Bitcoin price of $558.

Mt. Gox has ¥6.5 billion in outstanding debt. Approximately ¥2.8 billion in cash cannot be accounted for.

“I am deeply sorry,” Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles told reporters in Japanese, offering a ritual bow of apology. “There were weaknesses in the system.” The website, mtgox.com remains off line.

While Gox is apologetic, other investors are seeking justice. One investor, declining to be recognized, said, “This is not just a civil matter. They knew they had lost these coins and continued to operate the exchange and accept deposits. You can’t sell something you don’t have and not be committing fraud.” Other investors are alleging that the bug that was exploited to misappropriate all the funds was something that had been well known in the Bitcoin community for years.

However, the issue appears more clouded and much more complicated than a mere hack. Kenji Saito, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Media and Governance at Japan’s Keio University indicated that, “the [bug] is too small [of an exploit] to shut down one of the largest Bitcoin exchanges in the world. Rather, it must be that Mt. Gox has [been defrauding] its customers, [well in advance of the] February 2014 [announcement].”

Japanese authorities are conducting an investigation of Mt. Gox, following is closure.

In the US, Gox was subpoenaed by Federal prosecutors in New York. According to an unidentified source for the Wall Street Journal, Gox has been asked to preserve specific documentation. The US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York declined commenting, citing the ongoing investigation.

Now… I’ve heard a lot of speculation from a number of people here at the office saying that crypto-currencies are all going to die and this is the end of Bitcoin, Dogecoin, etc. While I’m certain that would make many international governments very happy (Bitcoin is a universal currency, and largely unregulated), I am not entirely certain that it’s going to kill the commodity. However, it certainly hasn’t done Bitcoin any favors; and its likely made its universal acceptance that much more difficult as well as pushed that possibility further out into the future.

What do you think? Did Mt. Gox defraud its investors and customers? Were they aware of the vulnerability in their systems and ignored it; or were they caught off guard? What about the ¥2.8 billion in missing cash? What’s going to happen to crypto and other digital currencies? Please tell me what you think in the discussion area, below. I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter.

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Someone Glammed my Bitcoin Wallet

Mt. Gox gets fleeced and closes its door due to a $350M 5-finger discount…

BitcoinVirtual currencies are very fragile.  Well, I shouldn’t say fragile. I should really say, volatile.  The currency fluctuates so violently its hard to determine what its value will be from one day to the next.  The one thing that’s brought the fledgling currency the most stability has been the largest bitcoin exchange in the world – Mt. Gox.  Unfortunately, Mt. Gox is no more.

Bitcoin’s run may be at an end.

Mt. Gox, apparently now insolvent, lost 744,408 bitcoins worth about $350M at the time of the initial report, which was Monday 2014-02-24.  Mt. Gox, like any other commodity exchange, can go belly-up at any moment. Its simply the nature of commodity trading. Markets can tip bearish or bullish on a whim, and its not easy to figure out which way the wind is blowing. However, this wasn’t the result of a glut in trading or from any other trading action. Mt. Gox was hacked, plain and simple.

Described as the worst run business in history, Gox initially got itself in trouble with US authorities I 2013. They seized $5M in US-based assets as a result of Gox’s failure to obtain the necessary money transferring permits. Since then, the news has been rife with reports of customers waiting months and months to withdrawal bitcoins as US dollars.  Early in February 2014. Mt. Gox suspended all withdrawals, indicating a bitcoin wallet bug as the culprit.

Instead, it appears that the exchange has been the victim of a two year long hack where both its hot (online) and cold (off line) wallets have been emptied.  How does an organization that deals in money transfers and in the trading of any kind of commodity NOT know if its having its coffers fleeced?!

What’s worse is that Charlie Shrem, the CEO of U.S. bitcoin exchange Bitinstant, was arrested on money laundering charges. Both Shrem and Gox CEO Mark Karpeles sat on the board of the Bitcoin Foundation, a lobbying agency and software development organization for bitcoin.  Both men have stepped down from their seats. Unfortunately, with Gox’s closure and the scandal at Bitinstant, its unclear if this digital commodity will be able to recover.

According to the Mt. Gox website, the organization states that Karpeles is still in Japan and is working hard to resolve the issue.  They ask that no one asks the Mt. Gox staff any questions, as they aren’t authorized to speak for the organization.  You can also read the original message which explains that the organization has shuttered its doors. The site instructs users and those interested to check back periodically to insure that they have the latest information, which will be posted on that page.

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Business users reject Windows 8

Win8DVDMicrosoft recently launched the latest version of their Windows operating system, Windows 8, and reports say they have sold an impressive 60 million copies since the October 2012 release. However, reviews of the new product have been mixed to say the least, and the response from the business world has been particularly cynical.

With Windows 8, Microsoft aimed to accommodate the increased popularity of tablets and smartphones. The design updates may look smart, but reviewers have complained that there are many usability issues. MIT Technology Review commented that although the new interface, which Microsoft has optimistically named “Modern,” is “a pleasure to use on phones and tablets,” it “fares poorly” when used on a PC.

The news of usability problems with Windows 8 has spread quickly among business users. The criticisms have damaged Microsoft’s reputation when it comes to operating systems, which is still in recovery from the negative response to 2006’s Windows Vista. Official sales figures state that only 17% of business computers shipped in December 2012 used Windows 8.

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It seems that businesses perceive Windows 8 as an operating system targeted to the needs and desires of consumers, and therefore not a useful update for their PCs. Windows 8 is particularly designed to suit touch screen devices such as tablets and mobile phones. Touch screen is a major consumer trend, but for business users a more practical operating system is a priority. MIT Technology Review summarised: “The touch-based user interface is clearly designed for consuming information and having fun, rather than for doing serious work.”

Windows 8’s Modern interface looks markedly different to what users have come to know and expect from Windows. When the computer is switched on, the user is met with a screen comprising of different sized squares, where they once would have seen the familiar desktop layout, with various icons, wallpaper and a toolbar. The new interface is colourful and appealing for casual computer users, but for businesses where productivity and usability are key, the new look seems more of a gimmick than an innovation.

Windows 8 has received many criticisms for its functional problems, for example technology website The Verge said that its included apps were too basic, and Ars Technica stated that the interface was not intuitive, complaining about a lack of instructions. However, reviewers have also pointed out a number of positive improvements, which have been overshadowed by complains about the interface. The Verge were impressed by Windows 8’s updated Task Manager and the File History and Storage Space features.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has launched an ambitious new product, which has had some very well documented teething problems. For businesses, an operating system with such functionality issues is not a viable option, but in the long-run Microsoft’s bold move into new territory could give them an advantage over their rivals Google and Apple. For now, they will need to work hard to win back their business customers’ valuable loyalty, perhaps with updates or a separate business edition.

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Microsoft Should Focus on Innovation

Recent MS Survey Wants to Ask Users How it can Improve Customer Support…

Sorry… I’m not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I really just can’t let this go.

I recently agreed to take a Microsoft survey on TechNET satisfaction. I’m a TechNET Pro subscriber and have been for about three years. It’s a great value, especially if you use MS software and have more than a couple PC’s to install it on.

One of the questions near the end of the survey asked – “To provide a better Customer Support experience, who could Microsoft best learn from, and why?”

My answer is below; but the point is not the first part of the first sentence – “Apple; but MS’ problems aren’t customer support, its relevance in the industry. Surface is a good start, but its WAY overpriced. MS should have taken the financial hit and priced Surface RT & Pro tablets for volume, not margin.”

The question came near the end of the survey; but it really didn’t sit well with me. I give MS high marks for being concerned about customer support; but they have bigger fish to fry than that. They need to figure out how to get back in the game.

Their Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets are significantly over priced. Similar partner products are not going to undercut the base level prices MS has set for both tablets at $499 and $899 respectively; and regardless of how awesome they may or may not be, this is a problem. MS Surface tablets should be priced to compete with 3rd party Android tablets – the Kindle Fires, the Galaxy Tabs/Notes which are low to high end respectively. Surface tablets should top out at $499-$599. Not start there.

Microsoft’s approach is to compete directly with Apple in both feature and price sets. They can’t afford to do that. Not at this late date, not with their late to market products in a market place that’s saturated with better established, competitors with more mature products. They need to come in low priced and fight the volume/low margin battle before stepping it up a notch. By pricing things where they are, I’m afraid that Microsoft has priced themselves right out of the market, and possibly, right out of business.

Windows 8 is likely the company’s last big (relevant) hurrah if it doesn’t take. While many enterprise customers will likely stick with Windows XP and Widnows 7 for a number of years to come, once support for both finally sunsets, moving business users to Windows 8 may be problematic.

In my opinion, the best thing that MS can do is push Windows 8 with all of the tools they have. This includes both Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets, and having them available at a much more attractive price point could have been huge for them. They chose to hit their margin targets on individual units rather than via volume.

It was a choice to make. I think it’s the wrong choice, but honestly, only time will really tell there. We’ll have to wait and see.

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RIM Keeps Manufacturing Out of China

This one act has probably done more to show the world that RIM is in it to win it than any other so far this year – RIM is staying out of China.

The Huffington Post had a really great article in it yesterday. The article described how Thorsten Heins, RIM’s CEO, has made an operational decision to stay out of China. Specifically speaking, despite the cheap labor and lax environmental laws, RIM’s manufacturing operations won’t be moving there… ever.

The immediate question is, “why is this important?” That’s really quite simple. Historically, it’s been very easy for Chinese companies to “acquire” intellectual property and produce like and/or competing products and services from companies operating within their borders. In many cases, government officials order, intimidate, cajole, or otherwise “make” Chinese workers cough up the information.

Shortly after that happens it’s not been unheard of for foreign companies to lose or be underbid for work because a Chinese organization introduces a like product and wins a contract or business with that illicitly gained information. This is a well-known occurrence for organizations with operations in China.

RIM is in butt-saving mode. Its cutting staff, cutting costs etc., trying to insure that it has enough staying power to release BB10 and the new devices that run it. The one thing it won’t be doing to save money on manufacturing costs.. ? Moving its manufacturing operations to China.

This is huge step in the right direction for RIM; and it may be the first thing they’ve done right this year. This decision protects RIM’s reputation, RIM’s current product line and most importantly, RIM’s customers from rogue Chinese government sponsored hackers running amok through RIM’s enterprise, or YOUR enterprise because the Chinese were able to hack through BIS/BES. It protects RIM’s most valuable asset – its security features. It also protects RIM’s value

Despite the fact that RIM could have saved a great deal of money on operating expenses, Heins has likely saved the company by keeping the company out of China.

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Must Have Android Apps and Widgets for Business Users

For those that got an Android smartphone for Christmas, finding the right software to assist you in your work and personal life can be a bit of a challenge. Here are some great suggestions to get you started.

Any time you move to a new phone, you’ve got to determine if the software you’ve grown accustomed to or dependent upon will work on your new device. If you’re moving from one device to another that uses the same mobile OS, this isn’t a huge issue, however, when moving from, let’s say a Blackberry to an Android smartphone, this can be a problem.

A good friend of mine recently took a position at a new company and had to leave his Blackberry behind. He chose a new HTC EVO Shift 4G from Sprint; and while he loves the phone, moving from standard BB fare to something as connected and capable as the EVO Shift 4G can be a bit daunting, especially when you’ve got to integrate one device for both work and play into your life. There’s a great deal of valuable software in the Android Market that can help do that for you. Finding it, is the hard part. Here are my suggestions for must have applications that can help the busy work and road warrior integrate a new Android Phone into their daily routine.

Android Agenda Widget
Whether you’re a C-level exec or a busy soccer mom, having your schedule in front of you when you turn your device on, is a must have for many smartphone users. Unfortunately, the Android Calendar widget leaves a great deal to be desired. Thankfully, I found the Android Agenda Widget from Everybody all the Time. With the ability to display multiple calendars and supporting a number of different display sizes, this free Android widget fills a huge hole; and makes it easy to keep your next appointment in front of you.

Go Weather
EVERYBODY that I know of, loves the HTC Clock & Weather widget that their SenseUI interface made famous. Unfortunately, unless you root your non-HTC/non-SenseUI device and install a custom ROM on it, non-SenseUI devices won’t have anything similar available to them by default. Thankfully, a similar look and feel is available through apps from many different developers in the Android Market. One of my favorite freebies is Go Weather.

Like the HTC widget, the app is Location Services compatible, and will give you not only current time and weather conditions on your home screen, but a separate app that displays your extended, local forecast information. The application supports skinning, full motion HD video, has live wallpaper as well as a status bar icon that displays current temperature information for the location you’re currently “following.” The application is worth installing, regardless of the type of device you have, solely for its status bar, temperature icon.

 This gets your schedule and a decent weather presence on your device. It also gives you a healthy sense of how location services can provide value without compromising too much personal information. Come back next time, and I’ll give you my final recommendations for must have Android apps.

Launcher Pro
Android’s stock program launcher is ok; but there are other launchers available that offer increased functionality at a very reasonable price. Launcher Pro provides access to not only the standard Android application tray, but also an unlimited number of scrollable docks. The launcher is free, and is less memory intensive than SenseUI. The registered version is $3.49USD, and offers users access to its custom home screen widgets.

If you use Launcher Pro on a SenseUI device, you may disable SenseUI, so you’ll need to be aware of this.

Google Voice
All Android phones can benefit from Google Voice. Its deep OS integration provides for free, unlimited text messaging through your standard cellular data connection. Its visual voice mail features bring this highly coveted feature to all users regardless of what your carrier and specific voice/data plans provide for. Sprint users get the added benefit of using their standard cell number as their Google Voice number without having to port their number to Google Voice thanks to an agreement between Google and the number three US carrier.

Google Maps with Navigation
While Google Maps is a standard application from Google, not every Android device has it installed. This may be the case if your wireless carrier has a branded navigation app. In that case, installing and using this data connection dependent, free, turn-by-turn navigation app is high on my recommended application list. For a freebie, it’s one of the best navigation applications available, and its data connection dependency for map delivery insures that you’ve always got the latest maps for your geographic area.

There are a TON of other apps in the Android Market that are more than likely, part of the MUST have list in your mind. These, really are just a few, and despite what most anyone thinks, they’re safe and solid choices; and they WILL provide you with value.

Do you know of any other must have Android Apps for the business professional bringing their personal smartphone to the office, or for the busy prosumer? Why not join us in the discussion below and tell us about them?

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MEZZI the aluminium laptop cases company

MEZZI, a renowned briefcase manufacturer, is finding that customers are buying aluminum laptop cases for more than simple protection from an occasional bump or dropped computer. Solid aluminum laptop cases are adding a sense of security for business and leisure travelers.

One insurance company recently reported that over 500,000 laptop computers are stolen in the United States every year. Unfortunately, ease of access can contribute to theft, so in order to reduce the risk of losing a laptop to a thief it must be harder to access. This is how lockable aluminum laptop cases provide increased security.

And though it is unlikely many laptop briefcases are stolen directly out a person’s hands when they are being carried, there are times during business or leisure travel when people assume their laptops are safe. Whether left unattended in hotel rooms or in a colleague or client’s office, laptops can be susceptible to theft.

Another possible contributor to the sense security MEZZI customers have toward their aluminum laptop case is the image MEZZI cases has in mainstream media. Aluminum MEZZI cases have been used to safely and securely transport many high-value items in movies, television shows and music videos. Most recently, a MEZZI case will appear on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” A MEZZI case also hit the big screen in 2010 with an appearance in 13, starring Jason Statham, 50 Cent and Mickey Rourke. MEZZI cases have always been a staple on NBC’s “Deal or No Deal.”

With this exposure, aluminum cases are becoming iconic symbols of safety and security, especially for business travelers who find themselves in unfamiliar places frequently.

For more information about MEZZI or to see its full line of affordable, high-quality aluminum laptop cases, visit MEZZI.com. Or check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

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