Weekend tech reading: The NSA maps social connections, video highlights of Ballmer's farewell, various Steam-related write-ups

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microsoft, valve, nsa, ballmer, privacy, edward snowden

N.S.A. gathers data on social connections of U.S. Citizens Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans' social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials. The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans' networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. The NY Times

Meet the machines that steal your phone's data The National Security Agency’s spying tactics are being intensely scrutinized following the recent leaks of secret documents. However, the NSA isn't the only US government agency using controversial surveillance methods. Monitoring citizens' cell phones without their knowledge is a booming business. From Arizona to California, Florida to Texas, state and federal authorities have been quietly investing millions of dollars acquiring clandestine mobile phone surveillance equipment in the past decade. Ars Technica

Inside the fall of BlackBerry: how the smartphone inventor failed to adapt Late last year, Research In Motion chief executive officer Thorsten Heins sat down with the board of directors at the company's Waterloo, Ont., headquarters to review plans for the launch of a new phone designed to turn around the company's fortunes. His weapon was the BlackBerry Z10, a slim device with the kind of glass touchscreen that had made Apple and Samsung the dominant names in the global smartphone market. The Globe and Mail

How Google taught itself good design "I had just assumed that Google was hostile to designers," says Matias Duarte one afternoon this summer. We're in a drab Google conference room at the Plex, and Duarte sports a red-and-yellow floral-print shirt, skinny khaki pants, and a pair of white sunglasses. With his short, matted hair, he looks more like a Madrid clubgoer than your typical schlubby Google engineer. That's the point. Duarte is one of the most storied designers in the mobile software industry. Fast Company

Why we're shutting off our comments Comments can be bad for science. That's why, here at PopularScience.com, we're shutting them off. It wasn't a decision we made lightly. As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter. Popular Science

Why free software is more important now than ever before It is now 30 years since I launched the campaign for freedom in computing, that is, for software to be free or "libre" (we use that word to emphasize that we’re talking about freedom, not price). Some proprietary programs, such as Photoshop, are very expensive; others, such as Flash Player, are available gratis -- either way, they subject their users to someone else's power. Wired

beautifully animated open letter to J.J. Abrams about Star Wars There are lots of essays and open letters, telling J.J. Abrams how to make Star Wars great again. We even tried our hand at one. But this video is still something unique. It lays out four simple rules for Star Wars, with superb animation. This video is the brainchild of Prescott Harvey with the creative agency Sincerely, Truman, and we're excited to premiere it... io9

How Google converted language translation into a problem of vector space mathematics Computer science is changing the nature of the translation of words and sentences from one language to another. Anybody who has tried BabelFish or Google Translate will know that they provide useful translation services but ones that are far from perfect. MIT Technology Review

Ballmer goes out punching at last Microsoft employee meeting Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer took his farewell bow before thousands of applauding employees on Thursday with a typically loud and emotional performance at his last companywide meeting, talking up the software giant's prospects and taking swipes at rivals. Reuters (also The Verge's event footage below)

How LucasArts fell apart In June of 2011, then-LucasArts president Paul Meegan spoke publicly about his plans for turning the company around. "In recent years, LucasArts hasn’t always done a good job of making games," he said at the time. "We should be making games that define our medium, that are competitive with the best of our industry, but we're not. That has to change." Kotaku

Valve: How going boss-free empowered the games-maker Imagine a company where everyone is equal and managers don't exist. A place where employees sit where they want, choose what to work on and decide each other's pay. Then, once a year, everyone goes on holiday together. You have just imagined Valve. BBC (also a Steamy dump of links below)

  • Analyzing Valve's SteamOS, Steam Machines, and Steam Controller announcements AnandTech
  • Making sense of Valve's Steam Box: Windows vs. Linux, OpenGL vs. DirectX, and the impact of support from AMD & Nvidia ExtremeTech
  • PC gaming's future is no longer tied to Microsoft GamesRadar
  • That's not a Steam console; it's a Steam PC The Tech Report
  • Letting off Steam: Dissecting Valve's announcements Eurogamer
  • Will Valve's Crazy 'Steam Controller' Reinvent the Gamepad? Wired
  • Valve's controller has been tested. Here are some impressions. Kotaku
  • My time with the Steam Controller Gamasutra
  • TechSpot's Steam coverage

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