Amazon forays into Australia with small loss

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Online retail giant Amazon.com Inc, whose entry into Australia last year rattled established bricks-and-mortar retailers, posted a modest loss in its earliest days in the country, corporate filings show.

FILE PHOTO: Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City,U.S., January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Amazon’s foray into Australia was met with fevered attention from investors and a steep selldown in traditional retail stocks.

The U.S. company launched its website on Dec. 5, though it ran preparatory operations through the year, racking up a modest loss of almost A$9 million ($6.6 million).

In the Christmas trading weeks from the launch to Dec. 31, it turned over A$6.3 million in direct sales versus total Australian retail sales of A$26.3 billion that month.

These figures, however, are unlikely to be indicative of the future performance of a company that reported losses and roller-coaster results for years, but is now the second-biggest company in the world and closely watched on Wall Street.

The Australian trading period was too short for meaningful analysis, said Evan Lucas, chief market strategist at fund manager InvestSmart.

“Amazon is not the kind of company that accepts failure – they have a longer term goal.”

Amazon hit logistical snafus in Australia’s vast interior and handed eBay Inc – market leader in Australia – some victory after a move last month to block Australians from shopping on its foreign websites drew customer backlash.

A spokesman for Amazon declined to comment on the filing and directed Reuters to previous commentary about record Australian sales during a promotion in July without quantifying them.

The filing was lodged in April but the results were not reported at the time. They were first reported on Friday by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

Last week, Amazon forecast strong fall sales for its overall operations and posted a $2.5 billion quarterly profit that was double Wall Street targets on the back of its younger businesses – cloud computing and advertising.

($1 = 1.3569 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Manolo Serapio Jr.

Spain taxi strike over Uber ends after six-day standstill

MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish taxi drivers ended a six-day national strike late on Wednesday after the government agreed to limit licenses granted to online ride-hailing services such as Uber.

FILE PHOTO: A taxi driver does crossword puzzles as taxis block a section of the main avenue Paseo de la Castellana during an indefinite strike against what they say is unfair competition from ride-hailing and car-sharing services such as Uber and Cabify in Madrid, Spain, August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera

For almost a week, thousands of taxi drivers across the country blocked major city streets with their cabs in protest against the services they claimed worked under less restrictive regulation that made it impossible to compete.

The government agreed to pass new regulations in September which will guarantee a cap on licenses for the services at a ratio of just one permit for every 30 taxi permits.

The enforced legislation will prompt the lay-off of thousands of Uber and Cabify drivers as there are currently 9,000 permits granted to the online services compared to 70,000 taxi permits.

The services have become increasingly popular in Spain in recent years, boosted by special deals that undercut taxi prices on trips to airports and other travel hubs.

Backed by funds such as Goldman Sachs and BlackRock and valued at more than $70 billion, Uber has faced protests, bans and restrictions around the world as it challenges traditional taxi operators.

Reporting by Paul Day and Pablo Rodero; Editing by Nick Macfie

U.S. Congress passes bill forcing tech companies to disclose foreign software probes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress is sending President Donald Trump legislation that would force technology companies to disclose if they allowed countries like China and Russia to examine the inner workings of software sold to the U.S. military.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) speaks about U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision not to impose sanctions on Russia during a media briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The legislation, part of the Pentagon’s spending bill, was drafted after a Reuters investigation last year found software makers allowed a Russian defense agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software used by some agencies of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon and intelligence services.

The final version of the bill was approved by the Senate in a 87-10 vote on Wednesday after passing the House last week. The spending bill is expected to be signed into law by Trump.

Security experts said allowing Russian authorities to probe the internal workings of software, known as source code, could help Moscow discover vulnerabilities they could exploit to more easily attack U.S. government systems.

The new rules were drafted by Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

“This disclosure mandate is the first of its kind, and is necessary to close a critical security gap in our federal acquisition process,” Shaheen said in an emailed statement.

“The Department of Defense and other federal agencies must be aware of foreign source code exposure and other risky business practices that can make our national security systems vulnerable to adversaries,” she said.

The law would force U.S. and foreign technology companies to reveal to the Pentagon if they allowed cyber adversaries, like China or Russia, to probe software sold to the U.S. military.

Companies would be required to address any security risks posed by the foreign source code reviews to the satisfaction of the Pentagon, or lose the contract.

The legislation also creates a database, searchable by other government agencies, of which software was examined by foreign states that the Pentagon considers a cyber security risk.

It makes the database available to public records requests, an unusual step for a system likely to include proprietary company secrets.

Tommy Ross, a senior director for policy at the industry group The Software Alliance, said software companies had concerns that such legislation could force companies to choose between selling to the U.S. and foreign markets.

“We are seeing a worrying trend globally where companies are looking at cyber threats and deciding the best way to mitigate risk is to hunker down and close down to the outside world,” Ross told Reuters last week.

A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment on the legislation.

In order to sell in the Russian market, technology companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co, SAP SE and McAfee have allowed a Russian defense agency to scour software source code for vulnerabilities, the Reuters investigation found last year.

In many cases, Reuters found that the software companies had not informed U.S. agencies that Russian authorities had been allowed to conduct the source code reviews. In most cases, the U.S. military does not require comparable source code reviews before it buys software, procurement experts have told Reuters. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2J0Mf2C)

The companies had previously said the source code reviews were conducted by the Russians in company-controlled facilities, where the reviewer could not copy or alter the software. The companies said those steps ensured the process did not jeopardize the safety of their products.

McAfee announced last year that it no longer allows government source code reviews. Hewlett Packard Enterprise has said none of its current software has gone through the process.

SAP did not respond to requests for comment on the legislation. HPE and McAfee spokespeople declined further comment.

Reporting by Joel Schectman; Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in Moscow

Study: CBD From Marijuana Plus Chemotherapy Tripled Cancer Survival Rates In Mice

(Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)

Mice with pancreatic cancer treated with a combination of cannabidiol (CBD) and chemotherapy survived nearly three times longer than those treated with chemotherapy alone, according to a new study that spotlights the potential for human treatment.

CBD, the non-psychoactive (non-intoxicating) compound in cannabis, has already been shown to improve side effects of chemotherapy like nausea and vomiting. The latest results provide more justification for testing in humans, building on prior animal research that uncovered possible anti-cancer properties of the compound.

“Cannabidiol is already approved for use in clinics [in the UK], which means we can quickly go on to test this in human clinical trials,” said lead researcher Marco Falasca from Queen Mary University of London.

While human trials involving CBD as a cancer treatment may move faster in the UK, similar efforts could face obstacles in the U.S., where CBD derived from cannabis is still considered an illegal substance under federal law.

Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest forms of cancer in the world in terms of overall survival rates. According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is just under 7%. It’s the 12th most common cancer globally, with the highest incidence occuring in developed countries.

“The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has barely changed in the last 40 years because there are very few, and mostly only palliative care, treatments available,” Dr. Falasca added in a press statement. “Given the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is less than seven percent, the discovery of new treatments and therapeutic strategies is urgently needed.”

While this study hasn’t yet been replicated in humans, the results underscore the importance of continued research involving marijuana compounds. As we’ve seen since the legalization movement started its push forward, studies have linked the compounds to multiple promising results, from easing migraine symptoms to improving stroke recovery to decreasing seizure severity, among others.

The more we learn about the potential of these compounds, the more it seems clear that decades of research being blocked by federal law deprived us of medical advances that are only now starting to surface.

The study was published in the journal Oncogene.

You can find David DiSalvo on Twitter, FacebookGoogle Plus, and at his website, daviddisalvo.org.

10 Ways To Improve Cloud ERP With AI & Machine Learning

Capitalizing on new digital business models and the growth opportunities they provide are forcing companies to re-evaluate ERP’s role. Made inflexible by years of customization, legacy ERP systems aren’t delivering what digital business models need today to scale and grow. Legacy ERP systems were purpose-built to excel at production consistency first at the expense of flexibility and responsiveness to customers’ changing requirements. By taking a business case-based approach to integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning into their platforms, Cloud ERP providers can fill the gap legacy ERP systems can’t.

Closing Legacy ERP Gaps With Greater Intelligence And Insight

Companies need to be able to respond quickly to unexpected, unfamiliar and unforeseen dilemmas with smart decisions fast for new digital business models to succeed. That’s not possible today with legacy ERP systems. Legacy IT technology stacks and the ERP systems they are built on aren’t designed to deliver the data needed most.

That’s all changing fast. A clear, compelling business model and successful execution of its related strategies are what all successful Cloud ERP implementations share. Cloud ERP platforms and apps provide organizations the flexibility they need to prioritize growth plans over IT constraints. And many have taken an Application Programming Interface (API) approach to integrate with legacy ERP systems to gain the incremental data these systems provide. In today’s era of Cloud ERP, rip-and-replace isn’t as commonplace as reorganizing entire IT architectures for greater speed, scale, and customer transparency using cloud-first platforms.

New business models thrive when an ERP system is constantly learning. That’s one of the greatest gaps between what Cloud ERP platforms’ potential and where their legacy counterparts are today. Cloud platforms provide greater integration options and more flexibility to customize applications and improve usability which is one of the biggest drawbacks of legacy ERP systems. Designed to deliver results by providing AI- and machine learning insights, Cloud ERP platforms, and apps can rejuvenate ERP systems and their contributions to business growth.

The following are the 10 ways to improve Cloud ERP with AI and machine learning, bridging the information gap with legacy ERP systems:

  1. Cloud ERP platforms need to create and strengthen a self-learning knowledge system that orchestrates AI and machine learning from the shop floor to the top floor and across supplier networks. Having a cloud-based infrastructure that integrates core ERP Web Services, apps, and real-time monitoring to deliver a steady stream of data to AI and machine learning algorithms accelerates how quickly the entire system learns. The Cloud ERP platform integration roadmap needs to include APIs and Web Services to connect with the many suppliers and buyer systems outside the walls of a manufacturer while integrating with legacy ERP systems to aggregate and analyze the decades of data they have generated.

Boston Consulting Group, AI in The Factory of the Future, April 2018

  1. Virtual agents have the potential to redefine many areas of manufacturing operations, from pick-by-voice systems to advanced diagnostics. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Voice, and Microsoft Cortana have the potential to be modified to streamline operations tasks and processes, bringing contextual guidance and direction to complex tasks. An example of one task virtual agents are being used for today is guiding production workers to select from the correct product bin as required by the Bill of Materials. Machinery manufacturers are piloting voice agents that can provide detailed work instructions that streamline configure-to-order and engineer-to-order production. Amazon has successfully partnered with automotive manufacturers and has the most design wins as of today. They could easily replicate this success with machinery manufacturers.

Company websites

  1. Design in the Internet of Things (IoT) support at the data structure level to realize quick wins as data collection pilots go live and scale. Cloud ERP platforms have the potential to capitalize on the massive data stream IoT devices are generating today by designing in support at the data structure level first. Providing IoT-based data to AI and machine learning apps continually will bridge the intelligence gap many companies face today as they pursue new business models. Capgemini has provided an analysis of IoT use cases shown below, highlighting how production asset maintenance and asset tracking are quick wins waiting to happen. Cloud ERP platforms can accelerate them by designing in IoT support.

Source: Capgemini Internet of Things (IoT) study, Unlocking the business value of IoT in operations

  1. AI and machine learning can provide insights into how Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) can be improved that aren’t apparent today. Manufacturers will welcome the opportunity to have greater insights into how they can stabilize then normalize OEE performance across their shop floors. When a Cloud ERP platform serves as an always-learning knowledge system, real-time monitoring data from machinery and production assets provide much-needed insights into areas for improvement and what’s going well on the shop floor.

Industry Analysis

  1. Designing machine learning algorithms into track-and-traceability to predict which lots from which suppliers are most likely to be of the highest or lowest quality. Machine learning algorithms excel at finding patterns in diverse data sets by continually applying constraint-based algorithms. Suppliers vary widely in their quality and delivery schedule performance levels. Using machine learning, it’s possible to create a track-and-trace application that could indicate which lot from which supplier is the riskiest and those that are of exceptional quality as well.
  2. Cloud ERP providers need to pay attention to how they can help close the configuration gap that exists between PLM, CAD, ERP and CRM systems by using AI and machine learning. The most successful product configuration strategies rely on a single, lifecycle-based view of product configurations. They’re able to alleviate the conflicts between how engineering designs a product with CAD and PLM, how sales & marketing sell it with CRM, and how manufacturing builds it with an ERP system. AI and machine learning can enable configuration lifecycle management and avert lost time and sales, streamlining CPQ and product configuration strategies in the process.
  3. Improving demand forecasting accuracy and enabling better collaboration with suppliers based on insights from machine learning-based predictive models is attainable with higher quality data. By creating a self-learning knowledge system, Cloud ERP providers can vastly improve data latency rates that lead to higher forecast accuracy. Factoring in sales, marketing, and promotional programs further fine-tunes forecast accuracy.
  4. Reducing equipment breakdowns and increasing asset utilization by analyzing machine-level data to determine when a given part needs to be replaced. It’s possible to capture a steady stream of data on each machine’s health level using sensors equipped with an IP address. Cloud ERP providers have a great opportunity to capture machine-level data and use machine learning techniques to find patterns in production performance by using a production floor’s entire data set. This is especially important in process industries where machinery breakdowns lead to lost sales. Oil refineries are using machine learning models comprise more than 1,000 variables related to material input, output and process perimeters including weather conditions to estimate equipment failures.
  5. Implementing self-learning algorithms that use production incident reports to predict production problems on assembly lines needs to happen in Cloud ERP platforms. A local aircraft manufacturer is doing this today by using predictive modeling and machine learning to compare past incident reports. With legacy ERP systems these problems would have gone undetected and turned into production slowdowns or worse, the line having to stop.
  6. Improving product quality by having machine learning algorithms aggregate, analyze and continually learn from supplier inspection, quality control, Return Material Authorization (RMA) and product failure data. Cloud ERP platforms are in a unique position of being able to scale across the entire lifecycle of a product and capture quality data from the supplier to the customer. With legacy ERP systems manufacturers most often rely on an analysis of scrap materials by type or caused followed by RMAs. It’s time to get to the truth about why products fail, and machine learning can deliver the insights to get there.

Louis Columbus is an enterprise software strategist with expertise in analytics, cloud computing, CPQ, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), e-commerce and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

I am currently serving as Principal, IQMS. Previous positions include product management at Ingram Cloud, product marketing at iBASEt, Plex Systems, senior analyst at AMR Research (now Gartner), marketing and business development at Cincom Systems, Ingram Micro, a SaaS start…

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American Airlines Blames Customers Finding Out the Truth For Having to Make Fares More Attractive

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Over the last few weeks, many airlines have been crowing about how well they’re doing.

And then there’s American Airlines.

It suddenly encountered difficulties, despite being huge and enjoying an extended network in a buoyant economy.

One of the areas in which it suffered is its Sub-Cattle Class.

Often known as Basic Economy, these are the (allegedly) cheapest tickets that don’t let you change your seat, force you to board last, give you the worst seat at the last minute and, in American’s case, don’t let you use the overhead bins.

I mentioned earlier this week that American had decided to change the carry-on requirements, as its Basic Economy offering wasn’t doing so well and was even angering its own employees.

Gate Agents and Flight Attendants were forced into being the Bag Police, which is tiresome in the extreme.

On the airline’s earnings call last week, American CEO Doug Parker offered another factor that contributed to the airline’s poor Basic Economy performance.

“There are now filters on things like Google search that ask you if you want to bring a carry-on, and if you say yes, the American flights don’t show up nearly as high as they did before because it adds $20 to our fare,” he said.

The truth can be a pesky beast. It can reveal that your Basic Economy fare only exists to make passengers despise it so much that they’re prepared to pay more for the Economy Class that used to cost less.

Parker insisted there was “nothing wrong” with passengers learning the truth. 

“When you get yourself in a position in this business where price-sensitive customers find themselves with lower fares on truly competitive airlines like that, we have to take that into consideration,” he said.

Many passengers may chuckle at the notion that American might not be a truly competitive airline.

There’s another aspect to all this, however.

The major airlines — American included — have, for quite some time now, been pressuring the government to stop Google and comparison sites like Kayak from revealing the true cost of flights.

Or, rather, they want to force them to reveal the same information as the airlines do — such as flight delays — without actually having access to that information.

The big airlines want customers to go to the airline’s own site, where they can be fooled into thinking that fares are very low, until they see — just before pressing the Buy button — just how much all the extras cost.

So when Parker says there’s nothing wrong with customers accessing Google, I fear he may mean that there’s everything annoying about it.

How Small Businesses Are Blowing It With Their Brand Marketing Strategy

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a business owner. He was frustrated at a lack of progress from Facebook ads he’d been running. 

The source of the problem: He had no overall brand marketing strategy in place. Under the constant pressure to be proactive, too many small businesses focus on the tactics of branding before considering overall strategy.

According to a HubSpot State of Inbound Marketing report, 63 percent of those surveyed reported “generating traffic and leads” as a top marketing challenge. 40 percent said “proving the ROI of our marketing activities” was their top marketing challenge.

In my experience, both of these issues can be vastly improved by taking a step back from the tactics and thinking through your overall brand strategy. Whenever I start work with a client, I use a four-pronged entry point:

1. S.W.O.T.

A S.W.O.T. analysis is a time-honored strategic planning technique used to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to a business or person. It helps pinpoint the external and internal factors that are helping–and hurting–a brand.

The meaningful information generated by a well-done S.W.O.T. can include:

  • Strengths: What gives your business a competitive advantage in the marketplace?
  • Weaknesses: What puts your business at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace?
  • Opportunities: What opportunities exist within your business or market that you can expand upon and take advantage of?
  • Threats: What’s going on in the marketplace that could pose a problem for your business?

I once worked with leaders from a professional services firm, who did this and realized they were so busy servicing their two largest clients that they weren’t making time for marketing. As a result, they decided to dedicate a percentage of income from those two clients toward hiring a marketing firm to drive new leads.

Six months later, they were out of the danger zone.

2. Competitive analysis

It’s helpful to understand how you stack up against your competitors so you can determine your ideal branding tactics. This type of evaluation helps you identify your unique branding proposition and the attributes making you most attractive to your target market.

Some items to consider include:

  • How does what you offer differ from your competitors?
  • Who are your main competitors (both specifically and by category)?
  • What kind of branding tactics are your competitors employing?
  • What can you learn from your competitors?
  • What can you borrow from your competitors?

A small software company I worked with used this process. Its leaders discovered that all their major competitors were branding based on product strengths. So, they created a content marketing campaign to become thought leaders in their space. The company went from a commodity to a trusted advisor, making sales conversions faster and easier.

3. Whitespace evaluation

A whitespace evaluation helps your business uncover the unmet and unarticulated needs in the marketplace that can scientifically shape your brand strategy. That’s where you examine these issues:

  • What products/services don’t exist that the market wants/needs and that we could create?
  • Where is their room for a leader to emerge in the market?
  • Is there a lack of competency somewhere in the market that we could fill?

I once advised a pair of college friends who wanted to start a food company. They were looking for where in the market they could create something new.

Their whitespace evaluation helped them discover that the unique combination of two highly popular snack foods (jerky and trail mix) had never before been marketed as one product. Easy as that, a company was born.

4. Tactical evaluation

The final step before springing into action is to take a sober look at the wide variety of tactical options for putting your brand out in the world. There are at least 40 tactics, from LinkedIn Outreach and blogging to FaceTime Live and book publishing, that you can employee in promoting your brand.

In my experience, most entrepreneurs, small businesses and even mid-cap companies can’t really manage more than 3-5 of these tactics at one time. Creating a brand marketing strategy is both a science and an art: Both are better served when the necessary research is done first, and the tactical execution second.

If you’ve been investing in underperforming Facebook ads, for example, you might realize through this process that a LinkedIn strategy could be a stronger bet for your company. I had a client once who did exactly that, and it garnered them a cool $100,000 in the first year.

As a former musical theater major and self-admitted theater geek, I’ll take any chance I can get to quote a show. Apropos, there’s a song in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday In the Park with George called “Putting It Together.” As the song says, “Putting it together bit by bit, that is the state of the art.”

How A Group of Imprisoned Hackers Introduced JPay to the World

Until yesterday, unless you had a family member or friend in prison, you most likely had never heard of JPay. That’s because all of its services are directed toward inmates and their families.

Since 2002, JPay has been quietly moving into prisons across the country, first by providing quicker (though pricier) ways for family members to send money to loved ones behind bars and, since 2004, by providing limited email systems in prisons. Those systems are often touted as an innovation that keeps incarcerated people connected with support networks on the outside. In keeping up with the technological times, JPay also offers prison-specific tablets on which users can access their e-messages, buy music, and play electronic games.

But this week, Idaho prison officials announced that these tablets became the means for 363 inmates, across five state prisons, to create nearly a quarter million dollars of credits. Collectively, the prisoners created roughly $225,000 in JPay credits, which they added to their respective accounts to pay for e-messages, music, and games. In a statement to the Associated Press, Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said that, of the 363 imprisoned hackers, 50 men credited their accounts in amounts exceeding $1,000 with the largest amount falling just under $10,000.

Idaho is just one of a number of states across the country offering tablets to incarcerated populations. Nearly half of all state prison systems offer some form of e-messaging, a basic form of prison email provided by a single company that controls both software and hardware. In Idaho, that company is JPay. One of the largest purveyors of prison messaging, JPay contracts as the sole provider of these services in 20 states across the country.

And Idaho is also one of a growing number of states where prisoners have the option to purchase a JPay tablet. Unlike the Kindle Fire or the IPad, these tablets are specific to JPay and an imprisoned population—one cannot access the Internet or other services through the tablet. But it allows users to to listen to music, read e-books, play video games, and avoid the lengthy lines at the JPay kiosks to read and write e-messages. All of these services come at a cost. In Idaho, sending a single e-message costs 47 cents, while downloading music costs as much as $3.50. As 363 people in Idaho found out, they can also use those tablets to get around these costs.

“The Idaho Department of Correction has nothing more to say about this matter at this time,” Ray wrote in response to WIRED. In a statement emailed to WIRED, JPay spokesperson Jade Trombetta wrote, “While the vast majority of individuals use our secure technology appropriately, we are continually working to improve our products to prevent any attempts at misuse.”

As the sole provider of e-messaging and digital services within Idaho’s prison system, it might stand to reason that the company’s monopoly increased its risk of hacking. “If you’re forced to buy from one entity, I could see the increasing motivation,” says Jake Williams, a security expert and founder of Rendition Infosec. “But I don’t think this [monopoly] increases vulnerabilty to hacking.”

Instead, says Williams, any system offering an app over a device operates at a risk.“Any time you have a mobile app—whether it’s a phone or a tablet—the user has a lot of control over any data stored in the device itself,” he explained. In contrast to a web application, where data is stored on a web server, the data on a mobile app is more likely to be stored locally, meaning it remains on the phone or tablet. “A malicious user can access that back-end data,” says Williams.

It’s a problem that Williams sees often. He points to a recent vulnerability assessment that Renditions conducted on a mobile shopping app. To limit the amount of data being transmitted over the network, the app stored the item price on the SQLite database, a back-end storage mechanism on the app itself. But by modifying the price on that back-end system, “we could change the purchase price and buy the item for whatever price we wanted,” Williams recalls. “This is not an uncommon flaw with mobile apps.”

For JPay or any other provider offering tablets, a person’s credit balance is most likely stored on the tablet rather than being transmitted on JPay’s infrastructure to a centralized server. This makes it accessible for someone savvy enough to hack into the SQLite database and change their account.

Though they can still send and receive e-messages, the 363 hackers have temporarily lost their ability to download music and games until they compensate JPay for its losses, Ray told the Associated Press. They’ve also been issued disciplinary tickets, which means losing even more privileges and being labeled at a higher security risk level, a classification that could mean being moved to a more restrictive prison, being excluded from certain prison programs, and even being denied parole.

What would make a person, let alone 363 people, take that chance? In Idaho, prison wages range from 10 to 90 cents an hour. That, says Peter Wagner, director of the Prison Policy Initiative, can be a powerful motivator to figure out ways to increase one’s spending power. “JPay is a company that charges 47 cents to send an email. That’s five hours of wages,” he noted.


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6 Technology Articles You Must Read Today

Enjoy these six tech articles as we come down the homestretch into the weekend.

Greg Otto at fedscoop wrote this interesting piece about IBM’s Watson-as-a-Service.

Otto writes:

IBM announced last week it has moved its cognitive computing system into the cloud to form the Watson Discovery Advisor, allowing researchers, academics and anyone else trying to leverage big data the ability to test programs and hypotheses at speeds never before seen.

Since Watson is built to understand the nuance of natural language, this new service allows researchers to process millions of data points normally impossible for humans to handle. This can reduce project timelines from years to weeks or days.

The ability to understand natural language queries is a big deal. You can ask, for example: “I’m going to be in Boston. I like basketball. What do you suggest, Watson?” You might get several answers: Celtics tickets, Boston College tickets, Harvard tickets. Or in the offseason, Watson may suggest you drive to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield (MA). Companies are already using Watson this way. Fluid, Inc.’s Watson-based retail solutions deliver granular results to queries such as “I am taking my wife and three children camping in upstate New York in October and I need a tent.” Consider this: Watson has been taught to pass the medical boards. Would you trust it to diagnose you and prescribe medication? What if you claim to be in pain (e.g., back pain, migraines, depression) and Watson doesn’t believe your subjective input? Here’s more food for thought: What if Watson could learn to code? Why not? It’s hardly heretical to suggest that as Watson works with developers, it will one day be able to generate solutions based on a natural language query. That’s equally exciting and worrisome. Now if you want to poke a little fun at Watson, read this Steve Lohr piece in The New York Times (2013) about Watson in the kitchen. Just skim it — the kicker is at the end.

Ed Lane of BBC News wrote a fascinating article about how technology is changing disaster relief.

Consider the efforts of the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force in distributing to refugees in Northern Iraq the following: water; food; and the technology needed to communicate — power for mobile phones. Lane describes the initiative:

Alongside tents and drinking water, RAF planes dropped more than 1,000 solar-powered lanterns attached to chargers for all types of mobile handsets to the stranded members of the Yazidi religious community below.

It is the first time the lanterns have been airdropped in such a relief effort, but humanitarian workers say it is part of growing efforts to develop technology designed to make a difference in disaster zones.

Imagine a solar-powered lantern that you might take camping with an umbilical cord to a power source with connections to myriad types of phones. The inability to communicate during crisis situations is debilitating, and becomes more so within days (see below).

In a separate project, Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen of Australia invented a “mesh network” that lets people in emergencies communicate via mobile even if they have no Internet connection. Users can send text messages, make calls and send files to other users nearby, creating a mobile network through a web of users. Why is this so important during times of crisis such as war zones or earthquakes? Gardner-Stephen states:

You typically have about three days to restore communications before the bad people realize the good people aren’t in control any more.

He adds succinctly, throwing down a gauntlet:

There’s plenty of technology for rich white men. It’s the rest of the world that we need to help.

As he introduces us to the Sunlite solar-powered lantern, Lane provides a welcome reminder not only of the wonders of technology being used in developing countries, but the need for even more innovation and distribution of technology and knowledge worldwide.

Sunlite Lantern. Source: BBC News.

Death by distance. Roy Smythe, a Forbes contributor, argues the merits of healthcare delivered from a distance.

Fellow Forbes contributor Roy Smythe jumps right into the question posed above. He begins by citing Hannah Arendt and referencing Stanley Milgram in support of his proposition that we can become desensitized to death. That’s not new, and Smythe makes clear that he’s not interested in that problem here. What’s interesting is Smythe’s corollary argument that the distance between healthcare providers and patients has become so great that healthcare delivery is at a “decisive turning point in history that separate[s] whole eras from each other,” to quote Arendt.

Myriad technologies create distance between patient and caregiver and all meant to make it more efficient to heal the sick. Smythe reminds us of telemedicine platforms and other forms of “virtual visits” or self-care tools. Such care will be the norm much more quickly than most would like. He cites Dr. Rushika Fernandapulle, the co-founder and CEO of Iora Health, for the position that medical care is still fundamentally human. Fernandapulle writes:

The thing that heals people is relationships – the problem is that technology has the ability to actually facilitate relationships, but it can also get in the way of them.

Above all, Smythe doesn’t want distant medicine to lead doctors to be desensitized by death. He draws an interesting parallel — the use of drones in war. Without boots on the ground or vivid and live battlefield images, death can become abstract and sanitized. Navigating a drone to a drop site is relatively easy–and we should all emphasize relatively–in terms of seeing and feeling the results of war. By contrast, tossing a grenade over a wall, driving over an IED, engaging in close quarter combat, and other critical military missions cannot bring one any closer to both one’s enemy and the realities of death.

Climbing out of this analogy back into the world of medicine can be difficult. When we do, however, we find that “distance medicine” at first seems innocuous by comparison, and then every bit as dangerous.

Rick Delgado at Smart Data Collective contributed insights about potential hurdles for the Internet of Things.

Two ideas crossed my mind while reading this piece. First, Delgado makes the obvious-but-equally-important point that being able to take advantage of the wealth of the Internet of Things requires something we take for granted: access to the Internet. I’m not going to belabor a rural electrification analogy. Many do not have Internet connectivity, including in the developed world and the United States. It gets worse as ignorance abounds. Delgado writes:

While businesses may talk excitedly about the Internet of Things, consumers are largely unaware of it. In a recent survey of 2,000 people, 87% of consumers said they had never even heard of the IoT. While hearing about the Internet of Things doesn’t necessarily signify a consumer would not use an item connected to the IoT, the survey results show a lack of awareness and understanding about what can be gained from it. If this lack of knowledge about the IoT leads to lack of interest, a major driving force for widespread adoption will be missing.

In one of the worst tech predictions of all time, IBM President Thomas Watson stated in 1943: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Talk about punching in the mouth the possibility of disruptive innovation at IBM. Watson was misguided and incorrect, but hardly dumb. Whether we wish to believe it, Mr. Watson, I suggest, knew far more about his industry at the time than today’s experts know about the Internet of Things, which is in its infancy but growing fast. According to Gartner, there will be approximately 25+ billion sensors in the world by 2020. It’s not surprising that a whopping 87% of consumers are unaware of the billions of sensors around the world. What would (I would hope) be surprising is if we don’t follow in Google’s footprints to widen Internet connection worldwide. That would be a Tragedy of the Commons with a mean twist. We’re not depleting a resource. On the contrary, it grows daily because we feed it. Our “just” not sharing precludes a global race to the top of technology, which I’ll restrict here for the sake of argument to non-military uses. Now that’s a race we should all want to enter.

Tracey Wallace over at the Umbel blog (Truth in Data) writes about data-driven cities and the Internet of Things .

Wallace describes how each city is turning itself into a data treasure trove and using new technologies. Let’s look at a few:

  • Turning old phone booths into WiFi hot spots (NYC);

  • All household waste is sucked directly from individual kitchens through a vast underground network of tunnels, to waste processing centers, where it is automatically sorted, deodorized and treated. (Songdo, South Korea);

  • Wi-Fi provides city communities with hot spots that promote city services such as water meters, leak sensors, parking meter and other city services to operate on the same secure government network. (Dallas); and

  • There are no light switches or water taps in the city; movement sensors control lighting and water to cut electricity and water consumption by 51 and 55% respectively. (Masdar, UAE).

These initiatives are amazing. Think about what Masdar is doing. It’s like an automatic, energy-saving Clapper (“clap on, clap off”). Consider their savings and what it would mean for energy consumption if such a program were implemented to the extent possible around the world. Wow. There’s certain to be an enterprise wrapped around this as we speak.  So . . . which of you will be the first to sit on a bench at the edge of a park and use a nearby phone booth across the street as your hot spot? That’s pretty cool.

Richard Boire at the Smart Data Collective poses the following question: The Demise of the Data Scientist: Heresy or Fact? The CEO of Williams-Sonoma certainly has an opinion. 

Boire comments on an article by an “IT leader of a well-respected U.S. organization” whom he doesn’t name. Boire writes of this apparition:

[The author] hypothesized that data scientists will in the future become like switchboard operators: obsolete. The primary reason for this declining demand according to the author was that increased automation and operationalization of business processes will not require the technical skills of the data scientist.

Boire takes the contrary position:

With Big Data and big data analytics, the need for analytics and more customized type solutions is experiencing exponential growth. Methods and approaches in employing analytics need to be quicker and more flexible which require IT support for more operationalization and automation. This does not replace the data scientist.

We can leave  the automatization debate primarily to the Quants. But I do think they ignore the fact that data science is also an inherently human endeavor. Thomas Davenport, for example, argues that both creativity and instinct are essential to interpreting data. This is especially true when an executive’s intuition may display a lack of data science understanding. He writes in Keeping Up With The Quants: “The goal, then, is to make analytical decisions while preserving the role of the executive’s gut.” That battle-tested gut can be critical to evaluating even a data-driving initiative. There’s more great, related content: The September issue of Harvard Business Review has an article by Laura Alber, CEO of Williams-Sonoma for the past four years. (The article is gated.) She describes the creativity found in Williams-Sonoma’s headquarters in San Francisco, as well the “data analysts crunching numbers, building models, and analyzing reports.” She continues:

If Williams-Sonoma has a “secret sauce,” it is these teams working together in remarkable alignment to develop and execute our strategy and tactical priorities. In my 19 years at the company and four as CEO, I’ve found that the very best solutions arise from a willingness to blend art with science, ideas with data, and instinct with analysis.

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I am the founder of BKC3 Consulting Group. Please follow me on Twitter @BenKerschberg and LinkedIn. Please also feel free to email me.

Living With An Always Connected PC — Microsoft and Qualcomm Get It Right

The ASUS NovaGo Always Connected PC (ACPC)TIRIAS Research

Ever since the introduction of the smartphone, the PC industry has struggled to provide a mobile experience that combines the performance and functionality of a PC, all-day battery life, and anywhere and anytime connectivity. While products like the netbooks, Win-RT PCs, tablets, and Chromebooks have provided some of the functionality, they have failed to meet the requirements in all three vectors and to provide the true mobile computing experience. As a result, Microsoft has taken a different approach by partnering with Qualcomm, the leader in smartphone processors and wireless technology, to develop a new solution – the Always Connected PC (ACPC). As with any new technology or product, the solution will evolve and improve over time, but the first generation ACPCs are already quite exceptional.

Microsoft has long desired to create PCs based on the ARM architecture and with good reason. More Arm-based processors and System-on-Chips (SoCs) ship every year than any other processor architecture, surpassing 20 billion units in 2017. This includes everything from consumer applications like smartphone and TVs to cars and industrial robots. In addition, the Arm architecture has continued to increase in double-digit performance every year with every generation while maintaining power-efficient form factors. So, when Microsoft first announced support for Windows on Arm-based processors with WindowsRT, it seemed like a natural and TIRIAS Research was optimistic about the potential outcomes. However, as with any new product or technology, we anticipated setbacks. What we did not expect was that it would take Microsoft over five years to get it right, but patience, persistence and a long-term partnership with Qualcomm, the leading Arm-based mobile SoC vendor, has paid off with the Always Connected PC or ACPC.

Microsoft has worked with Arm processor vendors for more than a decade but first introduced Windows support with WindowsRT in 2012. With little support for legacy x86-based PC applications beyond Microsoft Office, devices supporting the alternative version of Windows drew little interest. In 2016, Microsoft and Qualcomm announced support for the full version of Windows 10, on PCs using the Qualcomm Snapdragon processors beginning with the Snapdragon 835. Based on the 835 SoC, ASUS, HP, and Lenovo announced PCs based on the new platform in late 2017 with the rollout of products throughout 2018. TIRIAS Research received its first ACPC, the ASUS NovaGo ACPC, about a month ago. The best aspect of the ACPC is that it is very similar to an x86 PC, and the worst thing about the ACPC is that it is very similar to an x86 PC.

The ASUS NovaGo ACPC in tablet modeTIRIAS Research

The PC vendors adopted different styles for the ACPC. ASUS designed around a convertible form factor, while HP and Lenovo designed around a productivity tablet form factor. Each form factor has its benefits and drawbacks and presents potential buyers with a choice. The three vendors also took different pricing strategies. ASUS choose a mainstream price of around $699, while HP and Lenovo choose to price the units higher at $900 to $1000, very similar to the existing x86 PCs. This is surprising considering the Snapdragon 835 offers a lower Bill of Materials (BoM) than an x86-based PC, with fewer semiconductor components, lower Printed Circuit Board (PCB) requirements, and lower power and thermal cooling requirements. While the ACPCs may look like a traditional PC from the outside, there are significant benefits to working with a highly-integrated low-power SoC, like the Snapdragon 835. The ACPC may be a bit hard to find in retail stores, but Microsoft recently added them to its Store.

Testing these devices as a PC poses some challenges. The traditional PC benchmarks are designed and tuned for the x86 platform (AMD and Intel processors). While the ACPCs are running Windows 10, some of the x86 code is emulated, running on the Armv8 Instruction Set Architecture (ISA), which means that these benchmarks may not run as well or possibly not at all on an ACPC. In addition, many of the PC benchmarks are focused on high-performance applications like gaming that take advantage of a high-performance GPU, especially discrete GPUs from AMD and NVIDIA. Even though smartphone SoCs are on par with low-to-midrange PC processors, the larger, more powerful, and power-hungry PC GPUs overpower an integrated GPU even when using an x86-based processor. In addition, the anticipated advantages of the ACPC are in battery-life and cellular connectivity, aspects not well tested by traditional PC benchmarks. As a result, we took a different approach to test the ASUS NovaGo ACPC – using and living with it as a primary PC. This means running traditional applications like a Virtual Private Network (VPN), Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, and using it for entertainment purposes, such as streaming moves and light gaming.

The ASUS NovaGo convertible ACPC with heavy duty hingesTIRIAS Research

In the design of all the ACPCs, each PC OEMS made every effort to make these devices look and feel like a traditional PC. When taking the NovaGo out of the box, it looks like a traditional thin-and-light PC. The dark gray color and the heavy-duty hinges give it a durable appearance. The one missing feature that I have become accustomed to is a back-lit keyboard. Other than that, the only noticeable differences are a smaller AC power converter and a Qualcomm Snapdragon sticker on the palm rest. The AC power converter is similar to an Apple MacBook converter, a small box with a plug attached to a cord rather than a larger traditional PC power “brick.” While the power converter takes up more space in an outlet, the smaller size is preferred for traveling. The NovaGo can be configured with 4-8GB of memory and 64-256GB of storage. It has a 13.3” full HD display, an SD card slot, and an audio jack. The NovaGo lacks a USB-C port but has two USB 3 Type-A ports and an HDMI port. The NovaGo also has an additional pullout slot on the right side for a cellular SIM card and flash memory card, just like a smartphone.

The NovaGo boots quickly and like any other PC starts the Windows configuration manager. Once configured, you notice that ASUS adopted a similar configuration to the company’s other PCs, complete with company and third-party bloatware, which became the first of my challenges. Just using the ACPC like any other PC connected to Wi-Fi, some applications felt sluggish and I struggled to get a full day of battery life. However, after eliminating the bloatware, especially the preloaded games that kept popping up unexpectedly, and resetting the power setting to my preferences, applications felt snappy and I had no problem getting up to two days of battery life under heavy, multi-functional uses than included productivity apps, social networking, and media consumption. At that point, I felt not only comfortable but challenged to leave the power cord at home when traveling.

The next step was connecting the PC to a cellular network. In the mountain in eastern Arizona where I live, Verizon is the only reliable network and I still find myself asking “can you hear me now” more often than I would like. In taking the NovaGo to the local GoWireless/Verizon store, the staff was enamored with the device but struggled with connecting the device to the Verizon network because the device ID was not in the Verizon database yet. As a result, the staff enabled a new SIM card on a Samsung Galaxy 8 pad (tablet) and then installed the SIM card in the NovaGo. While the improvised solution worked flawlessly, the lack of knowledge by the staff, information in the Verizon device database, and the trial and error method used was concerning and cumbersome. This is something the ACPC ecosystem must fix quickly. I’m sure that as the carriers chose to become a retail partner for the ACPCs, this issue will be fixed. There are a few settings to check after the modem is connected to ensure that the device switches from Wi-Fi to cellular seamlessly when connectivity is poor or drops, but the standard settings will be appropriate for most people and changing the settings is rather simple.

Cellular settings screen for the ACPCTIRIAS Research

The greatest concern I had was that adding cellular connectivity would reduce battery life, but to my surprise, it had no noticeable impact. And, the ability to quickly bring up the device from sleep mode and use it anywhere and anytime made it a pleasure to use. In fact, I quickly transitioned to using just the NovaGo in place of my new HP laptop and Microsoft Surface 4 productivity tablet. For the first time in the past two years, I can carry just one PC and often do not bring the power cord unless I plan to be gone for more than two days. The other benefit is that the NovaGo never heats up to a point that is uncomfortable on my lap and there is no fan noise because it is passively cooled. I would say the experience of using the ACPC is like going from a cell phone to a smartphone. With the added functionality (connectivity and battery life) and new usage models (anywhere and anytime), it is hard to go back to using my other PCs.

The one unavoidable thing that makes the ACPC just like and x86-based PC is Windows updates. There has been a high number of updates over the past few months that have resulted in issues booting some of my PCs and difficulties working with peripherals, such as my Epson Workforce multifunction printer that does not have the drivers to support the current version of Windows. Unfortunately, the NovaGo ACPC is not immune to issues with Microsoft updates. After one update, in particular, I had issues running Chrome and Google Docs. However, these appear to have been resolved. Compatibility between applications is the price we pay with any computing platform as companies struggle to improve the function and security of their platforms.

While I admit that I am not a gamer that is going to push the limits of a PC platform, the ACPC seems to have bridged the gap between smartphones and PCs better than netbooks, Chromebooks, and tablets while offering a full PC experience better than mainstream x86-based laptops. But, there is room for improvements. I indicated earlier that the best and worst thing about the ACPC is that it is like a traditional PC. I feel that there is an opportunity to offer greater differentiation and improve the user experience by eliminating the bloatware and greater application portability or single-login interfaces between and with smartphones. The ultimate experience would be to have the semi-portable ACPC and always portable smartphone work seamlessly together. Considering the different operating systems, that may be asking too much, but even without it, the ACPC has become my preferred platform. Being based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon product line using the Arm architecture, the performance of the platform is likely to continue increasing at double-digit rates according to Arm’s recently announced Cortex-A76 cores. The next generation ACPC using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 SoCs should be available in late 2018 and the Snapdragon 855 in 2019. The performance will also improve with the support of 64-bit Armv8 apps in future Windows releases for the ACPC. While I prefer the traditional clamshell form factor of the ASUS, I look forward to being able to test the HP Envy x2 and Lenovo Miix 630 and other future ACPCs.

The author and members of the TIRIAS Research staff do not hold equity positions in any of the companies mentioned. TIRIAS Research tracks and consults for companies throughout the electronics ecosystem from semiconductors to systems and sensors to the cloud. Members of the TIRIAS Research team have consulted for Microsoft and Qualcomm.

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