Monday, November 30, 2015

5 tips for using public Wi-Fi securely

Wi-Fi hotspots are wonderfully convenient, even for hackers; follow these tips to stay safe

The convenience, ease of use, and speed of wireless connectivity have made publicly accessible Wi-Fi networks a basic requirement for working professionals. The odd thing is that these same responsible professionals -- and the companies that employ them -- make so little of the risks of public networks. The vast majority of wireless connections remain unencrypted, and any malicious person within earshot can “sniff” the wireless signal, gaining access to information from confidential company data to financial transactions.

Why are public Wi-Fi networks so insecure? Unfortunately, the first answer to this question is often the following: the network administrator. The second answer: the users.

[ Also on InfoWorld: How to roll your own VPN, the open source, low-cost way. | Get expert networking how-to advice from InfoWorld's Networking Deep Dive PDF special report. ]
On public Wi-Fi networks, every user uses the same encryption key, laying their personal device open to others. Ideally, each person would have a unique encryption key, but this makes the network more complex to use and more difficult to run. And, frankly, the priority of many hotspot administrators is to minimize the number of calls to the support desk. This keeps workloads manageable and users satisfied, but it also means the network is far too open and easy to access.

With the number of public Wi-Fi networks increasing and the number of mobile data transfers keeping pace, the use of public Wi-Fi is a significant and growing security risk. As the number of hotspots and mobile users continue to expand, attacks will increasingly compromise email accounts, passwords, Social Security numbers, and credit cardholder data. Hackers will eavesdrop on communications, steal corporate information, gain access to banking accounts, and infect IT systems with malware.

What precautions can users take to help secure their use of public Wi-Fi networks? Here are five tips for using these networks safely.

1. Implement a VPN

A common step is to implement a VPN capability for all your users. The VPN establishes an encrypted tunnel through which they can not only access company information, but also surf the Internet and engage in personal business. Offering a series of controls to protect both the system and its traffic, the VPN requires an app on each device to encrypt the connection from end to end. However, this also makes it more time-consuming and complex to use and to run.

Because of its inconvenience, many users continue to check Facebook, read the news, and carry out their other personal Internet business without going through the VPN. This is a mistake. As long as they are online, users are exposing their device to hackers on the public Wi-Fi network. If a hacker can get into a machine, they can see every sensitive file, even if it is not open at the time.

2. Use two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication identifies users with a two-step process, combining components from the system and a knowledge factor provided by the user. For example, such security systems are set up in conjunction with a token account to provide a password. However, with these extra steps (which take only a few seconds), most illicit actors can be blocked from the system. If accessing company email and other systems requires two factors, even if a bad guy sniffs a user’s password, the password alone won’t provide access to the company system.

3. Beware Open SSID

One of the hidden challenges of mobile networks is that once a device has joined a specific network, it will jump back onto that network whenever the user is within range. To prevent this, users should turn off network discovery options like “Remember networks this computer has joined,” or get into the habit of deleting the network’s SSID profile after each session. This way, users can’t be coaxed into accidentally accessing a network with a similar name. For example, an iPhone will automatically hop onto any network called “AT&T.” Similarly, many notebooks are set up to advertise their internal SSIDs -- which is why you can walk down a hotel hall and see the hard drive in every room.

In a perfect world, operators of hotspots and guest networks would stop using Open SSIDs. In the meantime, it’s important for users to keep their mobile devices from blindly hopping on networks advertising those SSIDs -- and to stop advertising their own SSIDs. Whenever a device is used on a public network, sharing should be off and the firewall should be on.

Verify the network

Before going online, each user should verify that the network is the provider’s official system. Don’t assume the strongest signal is coming from the trusted network. If there’s any doubt about the proper SSID, ask. This helps prevent a man-in-the-middle attack, where a rogue access point may capture everything the user does. Sometimes scammers even demand a fake fee for access, thus acquiring both credit card information and a payment.

The safest way to “verify” a network is to establish a secure VPN back to a known location (such as an office or a home) and tunnel all your traffic through it. If the VPN tunnel can be established, then you’re likely on a safe network. This is the best practice anyway.

5. Avoid logging in

When on a public network, users should ideally browse only websites that do not require login credentials. However, if they need to log in -- for example, to access personal email -- it is best to go to websites that support the HTTPS protocol, which encrypts the communications between website and browser. Note that images may still be distributed via HTTP since links are not typically encrypted.

Better Wi-Fi security ahead

Creating a security culture within your organization is critical to minimizing abuses. However, users will not always act responsibly. As more users and devices rely on wireless technology, risk will increase at every point of access.

For network operators, the best response to this is a method for each user to associate with the Wi-Fi network using their own unique encryption key. This lets you keep your network secure while allowing for users with an overly casual attitude.

Fortunately, new capabilities are becoming available for users too. IT administrators can now offer their users “encrypted local Wi-Fi” solutions, allowing them to create private networks among multiple devices from any location.

Such solutions allow users to take their personal Wi-Fi network with them, creating a more transparent way to securely access business and customer data while continuing to draw on the convenience of public wireless networks.

Dirk Gates is executive chairman and founder of Xirrus, a provider of high-performance, high-density wireless networking solutions.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nasa robots ...

...that will explore other worlds and disaster zones


Nasa wants humanoid robots like the Valkyrie to one day help or even take the place of astronauts working in space.

This week Nasa gave Valkyrie prototypes to MIT and Northeastern University so they can help develop software to allow humanoid robots to complete space missions.


The ape-like RoboSimian made it through to the finals of this year's DARPA Robotics Challenge. Made by Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory the bot can navigate uneven terrain and has the dexterity to carry out tasks such as opening a door and turning a wheel to open a valve.

RoboNaut 2

Robonaut 2 shows off its newly developed climbing legs, designed to allow the bot to move in zero gravity.

Currently being tested on board the International Space Station, the bot's hands and fingers have been designed to work like a humans and it has cameras in its head for vision.


Designed to withstand 30 mph gusts and temperatures as low as minus 22 F, NASA’s polar rover has been demonstrated operating autonomously in Arctic conditions.

The robot known as GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, carries a ground-penetrating radar to analyze layers of snow and ice.


It may not look like it but this robot, called Surrogate, or "Surge" for short, is similar to a human: with an upright spine, two arms and a head, standing about 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) tall and weighing about 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms).

Like RoboSimian, another Jet Propulsion Laboratory bot, it was designed to operate in dangerous environments in the aftermath of a disaster.


Nasa's car-sized rover has been rolling around the surface of Mars since August 2012 and is scheduled to continue its mission to learn about the planet's geology and climate indefinitely.

During its travels the mobile laboratory has found evidence of water having flowed on Mars' surface in the past and determined the age of rocks on the planet's surface.


One of Nasa's earlier experiments, the eight-legged Scorpion robot prototype was evaluated by NASA Ames Research Center in 2005, as a potential model for exploring planets.

Robotic manufacturing system

This robot in NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will help the agency build the biggest, lightweight composite parts ever made for space vehicles, lowering production costs and allowing for heavier payloads.


The Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) at NASA’s Ames Research Center, developed the K10 robots to be remotely operated on planetary surfaces and act as scouts for human explorers.

The K10 robots drive autonomously and can traverse long distances over a wide variety of terrain. The K10 runs on custom, embedded software on a dual-core Linux laptop.


An artist's concept showing how LEMUR (Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot) could inspect and maintain the International Space Station. The Lemur 3, being developed by Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory, sticks to surfaces using a gripping system based on how geckos cling to walls.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

If You Paid $500 for a Gene Test, Would You Know What to Do With It? (BusinessWeek)

The FDA questions three companies marketing DNA tests directly to consumers.

DNA4Life offers a $249 test to help customers understand whether their genes put them at risk of having bad reactions to more than 100 common medicines. Interleukin Genetics sells a $169 test that “may help you lose more weight by properly matching diet and exercise plans” to genetic profiles. And DNA-CardioCheck has suggested its test, at $450, is a "reliable method to determine whether or not you might be at risk for developing blood clots which might result in cardiovascular disease."

All three companies got letters from the Food and Drug Administration in early November suggesting they didn’t have the proper clearance to sell medical tests to consumers. It’s the latest sign that regulators are concerned about how companies market DNA tests for health insights, sometimes bypassing doctors entirely. 

There’s good reason for that worry: For most people, the genetic analysis available today doesn’t provide much meaningful health information at all.

DNA tests can reliably establish family ties, like paternity tests, or reveal a person’s ethnic heritage. They can also tell whether people are at risk for certain rare diseases like cystic fibrosis that are directly linked to genetic mutations, or for passing the risk on to their children. But when it comes to information relevant to people’s health, especially about common conditions like heart disease or diabetes, the value of genetics becomes much murkier.

"Right now, almost all of this is premature and not terribly useful to individuals,” said George Annas, a Boston University bioethics professor and co-author of Genomic Messages, a book about how genetics is changing medicine. “It’s complicated, and these testing companies are trying to make it appear that it’s much more simplistic so they can sell you a product."

Companies see a gold mine in turning genetic data into information people can use to stay healthy or battle illness. A few years ago, Booz Allen Hamilton estimated that there were nearly 3,000 tests available; market researcher Technavio says the industry is growing by close to 10 percent a year. Many of these tests are available only through health-care providers.

The FDA didn’t tell the three companies to stop selling their tests. But the agency pointed out that it considers them medical devices that need regulatory clearance, and asked for justifications if the companies believe the clearance isn’t necessary. "The FDA actively regulates genetic tests sold directly to consumers to make sure they are safe and do what they claim to do," spokeswoman Jennifer Dooren said in an e-mail. "Without FDA oversight, the safety and efficacy of these tests have not been determined and could potentially lead to patient harm."

DNA4Life and DNA-CardioCheck didn’t respond to requests for comment. Mark Carbeau, chief executive of Interleukin Genetics, said the company’s main product, a test that predicts the risk of gum disease, is sold primarily through dentists. Other products "can be purchased by a consumer, though a medical professional needs to be involved,” Carbeau said. "We think, properly done, genetic tests offer real value to the health-care community, and we’re certainly supportive of the FDA’s efforts to protect the public and provide guidance.”

The FDA has cracked down on testing companies marketing straight to the public before. In late 2013, it ordered 23andMe to stop selling its personal genome analysis. This past February, the agency approved 23andMe’s test for a limited use, to detect whether people carry the gene for Bloom syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. The company has since added other approved uses to determine whether people carry mutations that could be passed down to their children.

One of the risks of making genetic tests available directly to consumers is that people may confuse diseases caused by complex risk factors with those caused by a single genetic abnormality. While a single gene mutation can cause cystic fibrosis, “for things like cardiovascular disease that’s just not true," said Michael Christman, CEO of the Coriell Institute, a Camden (N.J.) research center focused on genetic medicine. 

Unlike with some rare hereditary conditions, many pieces of a person’s DNA may influence his or her risk for heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, and they’re not all well understood. And genetics are only one risk factor, along with environmental exposures and lifestyle, that helps determine whether someone will get a disease.

In an ideal world, genetic tests would go through physicians or other experts capable of interpreting results, Christman said. “People joke there’s the $1,000 genome followed by the $1 million interpretation,” he said. "The interpretation is complicated, and it needs to be done very well.

Christman said the greatest potential for genetic medicine right now is using DNA profiles to determine how people might react to different drugs or doses, a field called pharmacogenomics. More than 100 drugs have information on their labels about how people with certain genetic markers may respond differently.

The challenge ahead for the FDA is policing the evolving market for genetic testing. "They’re trying to figure out 'How do we help consumers and providers that don’t work in genetics all the time to distinguish what tests are useful and what aren’t?' " said Joy Larsen Haidle, president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors. "What got some of the labs into trouble before with the FDA was you could send a sample of saliva to a couple of different labs and you would get very different results to the same question."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Energy Hasn't Been This Hot Since They Invented Fire (BusinessWeek)

And the revolution is just beginning.

Nothing in the energy business can compete with oil for volatility, geopolitical drama, or sheer utility. Its low price per barrel, currently under $50, won't last forever. But it may last through the year ahead. 

What will be changing at a historic pace in 2016? Everything else. Gas. Coal. Solar. Wind. Batteries. Cars. 

This is every energy source for itself, one clawing its way over another for markets, financing, subsidies, and friendly policies. 

Coal is the biggest loser, broken and bleeding, as banks—Citigroup being only the latest—decline to lay out funds for new plants. New laws, such as President Obama's Clean Power Plan, are locking in less polluting fuels, and the international climate movement is trying to zero out carbon emissions in the decades ahead. This year, the coal industry is expected to see its biggest drop in consumption ever. 

Beyond coal's pain, change is so monumental that it's difficult to say who the winner will be. It's easier to say what won't be. Nuclear won't. It's kind of running in place, benefiting from its status as a low-carbon power source but suffering from its expense and most everyone's reluctance to welcome new reactors in their backyards. 

Natural gas is the coal killer, undercutting coal's price as a power generation fuel. The abundance of American gas will keep the world market for liquefied natural gas supplied well through 2020. Low prices are great for destroying competitors, but they can leave investors hurting. 

Renewables are no longer "alternative energy." Solar power is competitive with fossil electricity in more and more places every year—watch China, India, and Chile in 2016. Global demand for the sun reached a new high this year, and solar is that rare thing that liberals and many free-market conservatives in the U.S. can agree to love. Wind power is cheaper than coal in Germany and the U.K., which may close all its coal plants by 2023. 

Which brings us back to oil. Prices may stay low thanks to resilient U.S. output, renewed Iranian exports, and Saudi Arabia's strategy to sell at whatever price it needs to maintain market share. And there's a funny thing about oil that you might not have noticed. It doesn't really compete with the other energy sources. It powers cars, ships, and planes. The others generate electricity.

So the true wild card for oil, beyond any 2016 price whips, is how fast cars start to run on electricity instead of gasoline. If electric vehicles unify transportation and generation, that would draw the lifeblood of civilization into the no-holds-barred energy slugfest.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Let us now finally bury the BlackBerry

Let us now finally bury the BlackBerry
BlackBerry can't survive with poor-performing hardware and a privacy phone that doesn't protect your privacy

Can we all finally admit that BlackBerry is dead as a smartphone maker? Every one of its savior devices -- the BlackBerry Z10Q10PassportClassic, and now Priv -- has been a failure. Some, like the Z10, were good devices. Some were weird, like the Passport. And one, the new Priv, doesn't even run the BlackBerry OS, only an outdated version of Android.
CEO John Chen has publicly stated that if the new Priv doesn't do well, BlackBerry will exit the smartphone business. It's clear that BlackBerry has already abandoned its own BlackBerry OS, given utter lack of user interest in BlackBerry OS 10 (ironically, not a bad mobile OS).

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It's now clear the Priv's Android pivot won't work. Reviews of prerelease Priv models say it's a bad device, yet another disappointment from BlackBerry.

Ars Technica lays out the flaws very well, even though it tries to be kind about them: poor picture quality, poor battery life, poor audio, uncomfortably hot operating temperature, an odd flex in its casing as you grip it, and the inability to protect your data privacy. Gizmodo covers most of the same ground, but not so kindly.

There's no excuse for this -- Android hardware is mature and there's no reason for screwing that up at the Priv's $699 price.

Engadget laments that the keyboard feels like it came from 2008, which was probably the intent, given the last successful BlackBerry device -- the Bold -- debuted that year. Some people have been complaining about onscreen keyboards since the iPhone's debut in 2007, but the fact is that 99.7 percent (seriously) of smartphones purchased today use them, so that criticism isn't real-world. Trust me, if people really wanted physical keyboards --  which are slower and don't adapt to device rotation -- they'd be commonplace. They're not.

The Priv's privacy woes are simply unforgivable for a smartphone sold as an aid to privacy and privilege (as in secure, privileged access). All BlackBerry had to do was use the new Android 6.0 Marshmallow version, which has decent app privacy controls, instead of the previous Android 5.1 Lollipop that BlackBerry uses on the Priv.

The Dtek app that comes with the Priv is BlackBerry's purported answer to privacy protection. Dtek tracks which apps violate your privacy such as by pulling in your contacts or turning on your microphone, and even alerts you when they do. But it won't block such privacy invasions. Marshmallow can.

Yes, the dwindling band of BlackBerry fans will cite the device's high-end specs; never mind they are not exceptional for this price nor well deployed in the device. They will cite the ability to run Android apps, which of course any Android smartphone can do. They will cite the slide-out keyboard and touchpad, which surely appeal to the folks who still pine for a physical keyboard -- but who didn't buy the Q10 or Classic or the Android smartphones of yore that had them. And they will cite the security improvements BlackBerry has made to its Android device, which are equivalent to the ones Samsung has already made in the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone has long had.

Some reviewers like -- or least don't dislike -- the Priv. But they tend to skew positive in all their reviews, so those opinions don't mean so much.

The truth is BlackBerry simply isn't trying any more. Chen already knows that and has been preparing folks to see BlackBerry exit the smartphone market. "Well, we really tried," he'll say next spring or summer, though the real trying ended in 2012 once the BlackBerry Z10 work was completed.

I'm sure BlackBerry will still manufacture its old BlackBerry 7 devices periodically to replenish those used by government agencies and defense contractors, but those users had better start thinking about alternatives. They'll need them soon.

Maybe BlackBerry the company will hang on as a mobile management vendor, but I don't think so, since its own BES11 offering (based on the 2011 acquisition of Ubitexx) flopped and the replacement it bought this year, Good Technology, was already struggling and is likely to continue to do so against Microsoft, MobileIron, and VMware.

Its QNX business for embedded systems that it bought in 2010 is a viable but small business that may be all that survives of BlackBerry. Maybe even BlackBerry's specialized security groups, like Secusmart, Movirtu, and WatchDox, will also survive as a niche provider.

But it's for sure time to bury the BlackBerry smartphone.

For the record, the BlackBerry Priv can now be ordered from BlackBerry's website after months of leaks and teases; AT&T also sells a version that works only on its network. The versions compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile are scheduled to ship on Nov. 23. There's still no ETA for versions compatible with Verizon, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular, though Verizon says it will sell the Priv at some point.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Artificial Intelligence and life beyond the algorithm

Alan Turing and the future of computing

Turing is not just a historical figure; his work is still crammed with relevance - and tricky questions.

A statue of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park.

It's hard to choose where Alan Turing had the biggest impact on history. The British mathematician is known as the father of computing thanks to his work on what he called a universal machine - which provided the framework for development of digital computing - and he also helped significantly shorten the Second World War through his work with the codebreakers of Bletchley Park.

But the interest in Turing is not just historical - his work is still relevant to some of the thorniest problems in tech, particularly around artificial intelligence. While a number of other academics and engineers had a role in the creation of digital computing, what sets Turing apart is the breadth of his influence, says S. Barry Cooper a professor of mathematical logic at the University of Leeds.

"He is bringing ideas about computation to different areas and that's what's really significant about Turing - he made all these connections and he had a global over-arching view of how computation worked in many different contexts," he said.

The development of the digital computing upon which we rely was just one element of his thinking. Because even while engineers were struggling over how to turn his theory into physical computers - mechanical giants with glass valves - Turing was already working on even thornier questions, and his work at Bletchley may have helped broaden his outlook, said Cooper, who has co-authored a book on Turing.

"He's kind of inhabiting a pure mathematical world before going into Bletchley Park and he's forced to engage with real world problems. He comes out the other end and his late work is very much engaged with how the nature of human thinking and the emergence of patterns in nature and so on."

In particular Turing's work on artificial intelligence remains relevant and controversial.

"I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted. I believe further that no useful purpose is served by concealing these beliefs," Turing said in his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence.

He wasn't right, but the emergence of artificial intelligences whether in the form of Siri or Watson remains a hot area of research. Most famously in this paper Turing outlined 'The Imitation Game' (now the name of a new film about Turing) which he argued could be a method for testing machine intelligence. It's now better known as the Turing Test and while there are a number of variations the basic concept is that a machine that can convince a human of its intelligence should be thought of as a thinking machine.

"The Turing Test has kind of framed people's thinking. Turing had this knack of focusing on fuzzy problems in kind of rather precise ways. He said well certain questions don't make sense so lets try to pin this down in a practical way," said Cooper.

Turing effectively took a Victorian parlour game and turned it into a piece of modern science. And while the Turing Test has been criticised on a number of levels it also reflects how trying to work out what 'thinking' or 'intelligent' means - and then applying this human concept to machines - is incredibly fraught, and that the appearance of thinking may be the closest we can get.

As Cooper notes: "Maybe there is a theoretical barrier which is being recognised in taking such an approach. Maybe there isn't an algorithm for testing intelligence and in that case what do you have - some kind of empirical approach."

Indeed, while Turing's work is responsible for the world of computing which we inhabit, it doesn't necessarily follow that he thought algorithms hold the answer to every question, and we should guard against the assumption that big data can make every decision for us, as Cooper points out. "We have to blame Turing for a lot: the way his work has been interpreted and the primacy of the algorithm these days - and the way in which human thinking has in many ways been marginalised particularly when you are thinking about large organisations."

The computer needs to be kept in context, says Cooper - while it has changed our world and will continue to be important in everything we do, so is the human input which Turing recognises in the Turing Test.

Indeed, Cooper argues that Turing's work on artificial intelligence also links up with his work on incomputability - how to solve problems that cannot be solved by using standard digital computing. "Right the way through this 20 year period of discovery he's engaged with not just modelling how we compute but also modelling how we actually transcend what the computer does. It's an amazing body of thinking. This is why he is still significant to us, he was thinking about issues that are still issues for us and in very basic ways that are still valid," he said.

Cooper added: "We haven't really got used to the idea that the standard model of computation isn't comprehensive enough to describe what's happening with the internet or what's happening with human thinking or at the quantum level and we are going to have to take that onboard at some point."

He added: "It feels to me that this is Turing's revolution in progress now ... it's very much part of the way people are thinking about problems now."

Monday, November 9, 2015

There’s One Thing Volkswagen Can Do to Stop the Bleeding (BusinessWeek)

Beat Tesla.

First we learned Volkswagen sold 11 million diesel cars specifically designed to conceal deadly NOx emissions. Now we’re told another 800,000 have been coughing up faulty readings of carbon dioxide—the very thing more than 80 world leaders are addressing at climate talks in Paris this month. 

It’s hard to imagine a more damaging scandal. This is a company that built its modern brand on efficiency, engineering and warm fuzzy feelings (think flower vases built into VW bugs and commercials of dear friends driving under the spell of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon). 

Deception, pollution, and lung cancer: These do not inspire warm and fuzzy feelings.

Since the scandal erupted, Volkswagen has lost almost half its market value, and prices for its cars are dropping. To avoid losing a generation of enthusiasts, there are three things the company must do to tow itself from the muck: 

Come clean. If there are more problems out there, Volkswagen needs to find and disclose them immediately. A long, slow trickle is worse than a big confession. 

Fix the problems. Customers bought Volkswagens thinking they were zippy, fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicles. Fix the cars to be just that, or offer refunds. 

Beat Tesla. 

While Volkswagen's engineers were writing software code to dupe the world into thinking diesel could be a clean-burning fuel, Tesla was building the battery-powered car of the future. Forget emissions cheating—electric cars don’t even have tailpipes. Tesla has a multi-billion-dollar head start, but this is Volkswagen, the biggest automaker in the world. VW could crush it.

A few weeks ago, Volkswagen issued a press release pledging to make efficiency a higher priority in the wake of the scandal, with a focus on electric cars and hybrids. But it’s mostly incremental stuff: a new modular platform to create electric drivetrain versions of popular cars, and a high-performance next-generation Phaeton aimed at the affluent Tesla crowd.

This is still playing catch-up, which nearly every other carmaker (plus Google and Apple) is doing as well. It’s not enough. 

So far, none of the biggest carmakers have gone all in on electric cars. BMW has received a lot of favorable comparisons to Tesla in the past year, but let’s be real: The hybrid BMW i8 is a work of engineering art, but the plug is practically useless, offering an electric range of about 20 miles before the fossil fuels kick in. The i3, while more affordable than the current lineup of Teslas, has a range of about 80 miles per charge, less than a Nissan Leaf.

There is simply no electric car on the market today that is remotely close to the top-of-the-line Tesla: 

  • Range: almost 300 miles
  • Punch: 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds
  • Features: industry-leading "auto pilot" that's constantly improving 
  • Release date for the more affordable, $30,000 Model 3: 2017 

VW could be a Tesla killer (or at least a respected rival) if it really put its mind to it. It has two big advantages: money and scale. Tesla is spending about $1.7 billion this year to build its business, and Wall Street hates it. Not an earnings call goes by that analysts don’t fume over how much cash the company is burning. But by VW standards, that’s a small price to pay. Volkswagen spent almost 8 times that much on research and development alone last year and has about $30 billion in cash. 

Tesla’s biggest problem is scaling up its operations. The company’s new Model X has a waiting list that stretches into the second half of next year, and its emerging battery business is booked until 2017. With the more affordable Model 3, to be unveiled in March and go on sale in 2017, CEO Elon Musk hopes to go from 50,000 sales in 2015 to 500,000 in 2020. Many analysts don't think that's possible. Volkswagen, by comparison, already sells 10 million cars a year. Scale is not a problem.   

Volkswagen has been humbled to a stock valuation of about $58 billion, or 7.5 times its estimated 2015 earnings. Upstart Tesla has a market cap of $30 billion without turning a profit. Tesla gets a lot of good will from customers and investors, because it’s putting it all on the line to make the future of cars arrive sooner.

No major automaker has done the same, though a smattering of more-competitive electric cars is slated for the next three years. If Volkswagen really wanted to, it could still be first to sell a 300-mile-range all-electric car for under $30,000.  The only way to make up for the past is to commit to the future.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Por qué el supermoderno Japón sigue usando el fax y el cassette (BBC Mundo)

Los japoneses tienen una fascinación con los robots.

Japón tiene el prestigio de estar fascinado por los robots y los aparatos de alta tecnología. 

Es una nación a la vanguardia de la innovación manufacturera.

Pero la realidad tecnológica en muchos sitios de trabajo es sorpresivamente diferente.

Este es un país que emplea humanos para hacer el trabajo de semáforos y donde empresas de renombre siguen utilizando programas de hace diez años.

Las cintas de cassette todavía se venden en los numerosos almacenes que suplen oficinas al lado de las máquinas de fax. ¿Alguien se acuerda de esas?

Hasta las visionarias compañías como Sony todavía envían faxes.

"Las compañías japonesas generalmente están rezagadas de otras internacionales entre 5 y 10 años en cuanto a la adopción de prácticas modernas de tecnología, especialmente las que están en la industria del software", explica Patrick McKenzie, jefe de Sartfigher, una empresa de software con operaciones en Tokio y Chicago.

Tren bala
Japón desarrolló el primer tren bala del mundo.

Resulta curioso que esto suceda en el país que desarrolló el primer sistema de pagos electrónicos sin contacto del mundo, el tren bala y el Sony Walkman.

En Japón se puede pagar con el teléfono pero, en realidad, aquí casi nadie usa sus carteras electrónicas; lo mismo pasa con Skype en la oficina u otras herramientas de archivo disponibles en la nube, como Dropbox.

Todo a pesar de que Japón tiene una de las mejores infraestructuras de internet en el mundo.

Faxes escritos a mano

Yoji Otokozawa, presidente de Interarrows, un firma consultora de tecnología basada en Tokio, dice que el Japón corporativo tiene baja competencia informática porque son las pequeñas empresas, no las multinacionales, las que mandan en el país.

"El meollo del asunto es que hay que entender cómo las PYME (pequeñas y medianas empresas) dominan el panorama empresarial japonés", expresa.

Las PYME conforman 99.7% de los 4,2 millones de compañías en Japón, según el Ministerio de Economía Comercio e Industria de ese país.

De manera que la tercera economía del mundo está manejada por establecimientos menores, no por los gigantes que todos conocemos en el exterior.

Estas PYME frecuentemente son conservadoras, si no del todo luditas (como se conoce a la gente que opone a la tecnología, en referencia a la clase trabajadora británica que se opuso a la Revolución Industrial).

"Suelen usar el servicio postal o el fax para comunicarse. Algunas veces nos llega un fax escrito a mano, lo que significa que ni siquiera usan un procesador de palabras como Word".

El fax sigue siendo un método preferencial para la comunicación hasta en las grandes empresas.


Aún algunas empresas globales más grandes parecen estar estancadas en un subdesarrollo digital, pero encontrar a alguien que hable públicamente al respecto es difícil en una cultura donde la devoción al empleador es la norma.

Brazo robótico
La robotización es evidente en todo el país, pero esa imagen no coincide con las prácticas internas.

"Eventualmente uno acepta que una compañía que se jacta de su imagen de tecnología de punta obligue a sus empleados a usar correo electrónico que parece del año 1997", reza un tuit reciente de un empleado de una importante firma tecnológica de Japón.

Bajo condición de anonimato, el tuitero que firma "El Monstruo Esperanzado" reveló a la BBC más detalles sobre la actitud paradójica de su empresa hacia la tecnología.

"Para el correo electrónico y comunicaciones usábamos Cyboz, que es sólo texto, y apenas nos permitían una cantidad minúscula de espacio en el servidor, así que casi mensualmente había que desechar y/o transferir correos viejos porque el espacio que te correspondía estaba lleno", dijo.

Los gerentes instaban a quemar datos en discos y enviarlos por correo convencional con documentos adjuntos "escritos a mano", relató.

Los empleados en Japón prefieren no comentar sobre las costumbres internas de sus compañías.

Afirma que cuando se sugerían actualizaciones de programas o la adopción de herramientas de uso colectivo como Basecamp y Dropbox, la gerencia los rechazaba.

El "excesivo celo para prevenir problemas típicamente se manifestaba en prohibir la instalación de nuevo software", explicó.

"Conservadores implacables"

Si ese es el comportamiento típico, entonces podría explicar la crisis de productividad de las empresas japonesas, dice Rochelle Kopp, fundadora de Japan Intercultural Consulting, una compañía internacional de capacitación y consultoría que se centra en Japón.

Como se mueve entre Tokio y Silicon Valley, dice: "Los trabajadores en EE.UU. son mucho más productivos porque tienen acceso a la mejor tecnología. EE.UU. está a la vanguardia tecnológica".

Las cintas de audio en casetes todavía se venden por todo Japón.

Y la incapacidad de Japón de desechar sus hábitos análogos y volverse digital significa que sus "compañías están perdiéndose de los impulsores de productividad", dice Kopp, que trabajó con una gran empresa japonesa durante varios años.

"Los departamentos de tecnología japoneses son implacablemente conservadores y odian conectar sus computadores al mundo exterior. Le temen al robo de datos y el hacking, lo que también hace que le teman a lo que hay afuera", explicó.

Una mujer que trabaja en una compañía de logística global en Tokio, hablando también bajo condición de anonimato, dice que "los japoneses vacilan frente a usar cualquier cosa nueva en la oficina".

Explica que la actitud tiende a ser de "ignorancia vencible", lo que Aldous Huxley describió como "no lo conocemos porque no queremos conocerlo".

En consecuencia, la productividad no manufacturera de Japón, a pesar de todas las horas que invierten, es la peor entre los países de la OCDE y más o menos la mitad de lo que es en EE.UU.

Humanos, no robots

Como señala Martin Ford, autor de "El auge de los robots", entre más avanzada sea tu tecnología más probable es que te reemplace.

Así que, a pesar de tener una imagen pública de amor por la tecnología, gran parte del Japón corporativo parece estar empeñado en atrincherarse contra la automatización y preferir el uso de personas en lugar de máquinas donde sea posible.

Después de todo, los faxes no se contestan solos.

Policía de tráfico
El humano todavía hace la labor que podría desempeñar un semáforo.

Una nómina sobresaturada podrá mantener la tasa de desempleo del país a un bajo nivel de 3,4% pero también mantiene baja la productividad, sin mencionar el efecto que tiene sobre el emprendimiento.

Es poco probable que esta estrategia sirva para frenar el auge de la inteligencia artificial, de robots y automatización en un mundo que está pasando de una economía basada en productos básicos (commodities) a una basada en capital intelectual.

Pero el Japón corporativo parece seguir haciendo el intento.