Dell Looks To Set A New Tone For Its Private Life

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The story of Dell is business legend: How a kid starting in his dorm room, hiding computer parts in the bathroom when his parents visited, managed to build a computing giant that employs over 100,000 people.

The Dell saga added a new chapter this year, when its founder and Silver Lake took it private, borrowing $2 billion of Microsoft’s foreign cash in the process.

The deal that closed on October 30th valued the company at $24.9 billion. Tucked away from the public eye, and released from the quarterly trial of investor expectations, Dell may now have the flexibility to retool its troubled PC business, and invest in new areas that could sport better margins.

Now that Dell has crossed the public-private Rubicon, it appears ready to recultivate its image. The firm has released a new video that compares its history to that of other well-known technology companies, like Dropbox. The clip has a clear point: Dell was started just like the other technology companies that you respect. The implication is that it retains that DNA.

A large company freed from quarterly earnings reports is a company unbound from many of its prior shackles. Dell bought its freedom, and we now get to see what it will do with it.

Top Image Credit: Flickr

15 Reasons to Stay Home on New Year’s Eve

1. If you go outside, you’re 99 percent more likely to break that “drink less” New Year’s resolution you made.

2. Come midnight, you’re going to feel so pressured to kiss that you’ll settle for anyone, and probably end up with herpes.

3. If you want to see a ball drop, you can stay home and watch a Milwaukee Bucks game.

4. You have work tomorrow, because New Year’s is not a real holiday.

5. It’s a short path from drinking to celebrate a new year, to drinking to celebrate a new month, and then just a Tuesday.

6. People will make fun of you when you use “Mississippi” to count down to midnight.

7. It’s just not the same now that Ryan Seacrest took over.

8. Everyone else is going out, so the Wi-Fi you steal from your neighbors is going to work super fast.

9. Those 2014-shaped glasses make you look stupid.

10. You’re just not excited about fireworks anymore if they’re not coming out of Katy Perry’s breasts.

11. If you go out, there is a good chance you’ll see a naked, hairy man in a diaper going as Baby New Year’s.

12. People are going to blow noisemakers in your ear. And that’s if you’re lucky. It could also be vuvuzelas.

13. Most bars will charge you a symbolic $2,014 cover charge.

14. The crowded places will trigger your Black Friday shopping trauma.

15. One million revelers come to Time Square to ring in the new year. You have the power to not be one of them.

Who Are These Children in my Mailbox?

Before beginning that dreaded day spent packing up ornaments, vacuuming fallen pine needles, retangling Christmas lights and scouring the house unsuccessfully for that one missing gift receipt, I embark on a post-holiday tradition that becomes more depressing each year.

I gather all the Christmas card photos we received in the mail and slowly peruse them, an undertaking I never have time for during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Amid backdrops of Cinderella’s Disney World castle, majestic ski slopes and white sandy beaches, I see smiling children in various stages of growth whose parents have included us on their holiday card list.

And increasingly I find myself thinking, “Who are these kids?”

I don’t ask rhetorically, as in “who are these kids who I still remember as infants and are now driving cars and graduating high school?” Nor do I ask with alarm, as in, “Who ARE these kids with tattoos, lip rings and striped hair?”

No, I seriously cannot remember who they are. My wife is worried about my memory, as she always has the answers ready. When I say, “Who are Robert and Patrick?” she quickly replies, “The Stephenson boys. Their mom was my college roommate.”

Of course. “What about Emily, Hannah and Dylan?”

“The Buckmans? Our old neighbors? Moved to North Carolina a few years ago? Ring a bell?”

Right.

At 51, I’m having trouble recalling my own kids’ names, much less anybody else’s. And it used to be so easy. At first, our married friends had kids slowly so we could keep up. In the mid-’90s we received one, maybe two cards with smiling, toothless babies. Our single friends didn’t send photo cards and those friends in the married-but-not-quite-ready-for-kids category sent photos of themselves accompanied by their “practice child,” usually a Golden Retriever.

Then suddenly, as our social circle increased, an onslaught of offspring hit our mailbox every December. And while those kids get older, new ones keep coming. Late-in-life children, toddlers adopted from other countries and foreign exchange students are being added to the mix. Meanwhile, as often happens, communication with some friends decreases. Suddenly I’m supposed to look at a photo and identify children whom I haven’t seen last December.

Sorry, I can’t do it.

But a few dos and don’ts of holiday card preparation would certainly aid the memory-challenged like me.

Ready?

DON’T think for a minute that including your kids’ ages in the photo caption is the hint I need. If I can’t recall who Rebecca and Trevor belong to, the numerical clue “Rebecca (16) and Trevor (11)” isn’t going to help.

DON’T obscure your kids’ adorable faces in ski goggles, snorkels or Halloween masks. You are sending a holiday card, not a convenience-store surveillance image.

DON’T succumb to those online card services that tempt you to drag and drop 15 postage stamp-sized pictures of your kids onto a single card. The only thing fading faster than my memory is my vision.

On that note, DON’T make your kids’ faces compete with a famous landmark. I’m glad you finally visited Paris. But a shot of your children taken from 150 yards away so the entire Eiffel Tower is visible in the background is worthless… unless I have a magnifying glass.

DON’T send a card of your kids in their sports uniforms. Once you slap a jersey and a number on a child, he or she becomes indistinguishable from every other budding athlete.

DO have the caption and your children’s names professionally printed. As you age, your cursive writing skills grow shakier. Admit it, and put the pen down. It will save me from having to ask my wife, “Who are… Kmrgfiv (17) and Bpqweiz (13)?”

Finally, would it kill you to just include your last name in the photo caption? Unless you sired an entire youth choir, there should be plenty of space on the card to say, “Happy Holidays from the O’Malleys.”

Can’t wait to see your kids next year. Whoever they are.

The Ugly Christmas Sweater Party and the Jew

I have never been to an ugly Christmas sweater party. I have never been to a Christmas party, for that matter. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, joined a predominantly Jewish sorority in college and moved to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood when I had kids, so the opportunity never arose. The majority of my friends have always been Jewish. Until now. Four and a half years ago, I moved to a quaint country town where the landscape abounded in rolling hills. On top of one sat a synagogue, but the Jewish population, I was to learn, was not even a full one percent of the neighborhood. The friendships I developed were with people of different backgrounds, beliefs and religions — how wonderful for me! We get to share in each other’s holiday traditions; I get to teach their children how to play dreidel and they, in turn, invite me to join in their Christmas festivities.

My evite arrived a few weeks ago, so I had plenty of time to hunt for an ugly Christmas sweater… or so I thought. I’ve seen photos of them on Facebook and in old movies, but I had no idea where to get one. I figured I could visit a thrift shop, but the thought of digging through the piles of sweaters to find the perfect one seemed overwhelming, so I turned to the only place I knew I could find the perfect sweater — eBay. On a hopping Saturday night, I sat by my computer and found the perfect sweater vest, complete with Santa, reindeer and elf appliques, sequins and holly leaf buttons. I sat vigil by the screen until I entered my bid with 15 seconds left and swiftly won my first ugly sweater auction!

There was an identical one on auction ending 20 minutes later, and 20 minutes later, I snagged it! My husband and I would go as twinsies. I was set… or so I thought. Shipping can be slow, and one sweater arrived two days after purchasing it, while the other was nowhere to be seen.

I waited with baited breath for the mailman to come on the day of the party. It was a snowy day and the mail was late, but it finally arrived at 4:30. No sweater. Crap! The party was in 2-1/2 hours and I had nothing to wear. Not only did I not have an ugly Christmas sweater for my first ugly Christmas sweater party, I didn’t have a nice Christmas sweater, or even a red or green sweater, to fake it. But this glitch in the plan was not going to stop this crafty Jew from enjoying her first Christmas party. To the craft room!

I had just donated a pile of sweaters earlier in the week, so I didn’t have one I was willing to sacrifice for the night. Since my husband got to wear the authentic ugly sweater, I thought it only fair of him to donate one of his to my cause. I took a big, black, fuzzy, non-Christmas sweater and got to work. If ever a day to have glitter, this would have been it, but alas, I despise the stuff, so I had to look further. I pulled out fabrics and came up with a Christmas-themed idea. I looked all over my craft room for supplies, but it was time to pull out the big guns — my daughter’s crap collection (a.k.a., her treasures).

I found small toys, mis-matched socks and Mardi Gras beads from the last Bar Mitzvah we attended and got to work. I made a “Stockings hung by the chimney with care”-themed sweater. I took scraps of fabric left over from shadow box orders, some felt from a school project, a little ribbon and my handy-dandy glue gun and put together a masterpiece. I found some small LED lights that I used at my 40th birthday and hooked them to the Mardi Gras beads and lit them up for the party. I added mini toys to the “stockings,” including a red-and-white-striped zebra, a stuffed dog and, as an homage to my people, a couple of dreidels.

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Once the sweater was complete, it was time to make the guacamole and jump into the shower and head out to the party. My husband put on his sweater and, good sport that he is, allowed me to dress him up in a ladies’ turtleneck and add sound buttons to his sweater. When pressed, they played 10 seconds of Christmas music (and one Hanukkah song).

We had a great time at the party, checking out all of the sweaters and taking our very first photo in front of a Christmas tree. As the night went on and the Christmas music played and the drinks flowed, the host and hostess passed out secret ballots to vote for the best ugly Christmas sweater in the women’s and men’s categories. As the drumroll drummed and the first place for men’s ugliest sweater was announced, my husband was victorious! I was happy for him because he really got into it, playing his musical sweater for anyone willing to listen. And then it was time to announce the first place sweater in the women’s category. To my surprise, it was me! I really was shocked because mine was thrown together and not an actual Christmas sweater, but I guess it was ugly enough to win. How ironic — the Jews swept the contest!

We had such a wonderful time at the ugly Christmas sweater party, and although it’s not our religious tradition to wear ugly sweaters and drink milky cocktails, these Jews can’t wait until the next Christmas party. And next time, I’ll ditch eBay altogether and make an ugly sweater for each of us.

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America Movil’s mega share buyback seen continuing into 2014

MEXICO CITY, Dec 31 (Reuters) – Latin American phone giant America Movil spent $5.4 billion this year propping up its share price and more buybacks are likely with new regulation and lingering…

Entry-Level Mac Pro Offers Comparable Pricing Versus OEM PCs, DIY Systems More Affordable

Anandtech today published its comprehensive review of the Mac Pro, including a price comparison between the Mac Pro and similar systems from competitors HP and Lenovo.

When comparing the entry-level 3.7GHz quad-core Mac Pro with dual AMD FirePro D300s to both the similarly specced HP Z420 and the Lenovo ThinkStation S30, Anandtech found the Mac Pro to be competitively priced at $3248 (priced with AppleCare) vs. $4490 for the HP and $4373 for the Lenovo.

While there are some important distinctions between the computers, such as the fact that the HP system only offers a single FirePro W7000 and supports more displays, the pricing experiment suggests that Apple’s pricing is in line with other Ivy Bridge EP systems.

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As I learned last time, there are typically some hefty discounts associated with workstation orders so take this pricing with a grain of salt. I also had to fudge the HP numbers a bit as I can only get a single FirePro W7000 in the Z420 configuration – I just doubled the W7000 adder in order to simulate what a theoretical dual GPU version would cost. There are other imbalances between the comparison (HP supports more displays, Apple features more Thunderbolt 2 ports, FirePro W7000 features ECC GDDR5, etc…), but the point here is to see if Apple’s pricing is out of touch with reality. It’s not.

While Apple’s pricing is competitive with similar PCs from HP and Lenovo, AnandTech found that building a comparative PC from individual parts was far less expensive, at least for lower-end systems. Pricing out an option with an Ivy Bridge E Core i7 PC with 12GB of RAM, two FirePro W7000 GPUs, and a fast SATA SSD came to $2730, a good bit less than the approximately $3499 a similar lower-end Mac Pro would cost from Apple.

AnandTech did not price out a higher-end DIY system, but earlier this month, FutureLooks attempted to build a PC equal to the top-of-the-line 12-core Mac Pro with 64GB of RAM, 1TB of flash storage, and Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs. Using similar parts (several Mac Pro parts – like the FirePro GPUs – were built exclusively for Apple) a PC equivalent to the high-end Mac Pro was actually priced at $11530.54, far above Apple’s asking price of $9599 for its professional workstation.

AnandTech‘s full review, which includes benchmarks comparing the Mac Pro to previous Mac Pros and other offerings from Apple as well as comments on 4K displays, is well worth reading.

    



I, Spammer

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As I approach the half-way mark of my crowdfunding project, I wanted to address the thing that makes me feel the worst about this whole process: the spam. As I intimated in in my last post, moving from passive content producer to active content salesperson is hard. As someone used to fire-and-forget posting, convincing others to buy something I’ve built is a hard thing to do. And the best way to do it, sadly, is through spam.

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I pride myself on trying to be a nice guy. I post crowdfunding projects on TC all the time because I think they’re cool and I tend to use social media to either make dumb jokes or talk about projects I’ve seen. Now, however, I have to use social media as a sales tool. I contact the vast majority of my Facebook friends directly, have retweeted comments about the book, and even resorted to contacting my LinkedIn and Google+ contacts although I barely use those services. How did I get the most traction, however?

Email.

Take a look at the image above. Aside from a massive Facebook push around Christmas each of those spikes were driven by an email blast sent out on or around that date. Emails took a few days to appear as pledges but after each email I was able to push the total up by at least $1,000. Even given the horrible click rates, those are very compelling numbers.

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Now, to be clear, I don’t think it was just the email. These lists consist of people who have signed up for my various projects and folks I’ve met in my travels. They know me and many have the ulterior motive of staying friendly with a TC editor. Would I have the same results of I were some dude selling penis pills online? I sincerely doubt it. However, I could see this working if the email list were in the millions and not in the thousands.

In short, direct contact works best. As one crowdfunder told me “When someone gets an email from you they can do one of two things: ignore it and feel bad/indifferent or act on it.” In my case I was lucky that so many acted on it.

Again, I’ve been consistently amazed how little Twitter and Facebook – aside from direct messages – have contributed to the process. While these tweets and twoots are great for getting the word out – I’m not ungrateful by any means – the actual conversion is limited. Broadcasting “Buy This!” is far less effective than saying “Hey, friend, buy this.”

Do I feel bad about this spam? Well, I’ve tried to keep it to a minimum and now that I’m well past my original $8,000 goal I feel bad for continuing to market. But, in the end, this is a project I love and feel deserves to do well. What would I change in the future? I’d create some sort of system so I don’t re-target backers who have already helped out – that’s something that really upset me and I’ve received two emails from friends about it. Essentially I haven’t found any system for truly segmenting out who I contact although I’m sure solutions exist (and feel free to let me know if you have one).

Still I’m amazed at the reach and power at good old email. It sucks, but it’s true: spam works and it works well. In the end, a nice message, carefully wrought, results in far less blowback than a wonky diet pill email, but the process is the same. Like it or not, direct email is a crowdfunder’s best friend.

This is part of a series on crowdfunding, The Mytro Project. For future posts I’m looking for more input from online analysts and other crowdfunding platforms so please email me at john@techcrunch.com.

Apple denies it knew of alleged hacking bid

Denial followed the release of documents showing what were claimed to be NSA attempts to break into a wide range of computer and networking hardware