Monday, March 31, 2014

Billions in Fines, but No Jail Time for Bank of America (BusinessWeek)

Bank of America (BAC) has now joined JPMorgan Chase (JPM) in a special category called: Banks That Agreed to Pay Billions in Fraud Fines While No Executives Have Gone to Jail.
The company agreed to $9.5 billion in fines to settle civil lawsuits filed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency on behalf of Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC), which claimed that Bank of America had fraudulently misrepresented the quality of $57.5 billion worth of residential mortgage-backed securities leading into the financial crisis. Cash payments of $6.3 billion will be made to Fannie and Freddie, and the bank will buy back $3.2 billion of mortgage securities. This brings the grand total of what the bank has agreed to pay to resolve mortgage claims to more than $50 billion, according to Bloomberg News.
Even with those eye-popping numbers, though, no criminal charges were ever filed against an executive at Bank of America or Countrywide Financial, the mortgage originator bought in 2008 that was the source of many of BofA’s problems. The government’s strategy for punishing big banks for the misdeeds of the financial crisis has revolved around filing civil lawsuits and imposing harsh financial penalties that ultimately fall on shareholders.
The same day that Bank of America announced the billions in fines, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman revealed his own $25 million settlement with the bank and its former chief executive, Kenneth Lewis, over allegations that both were less than forthright with shareholders over the 2009 purchase of Merrill Lynch. Lewis agreed to a $10 million fine and a three-year ban on serving as an officer or director of a public company; Bank of America will write another check, this one for $15 million. Schneiderman’s suit alleged that Bank of America hid Merrill’s exploding losses from shareholders, who had to vote to approve the transaction, which was cooked up the same weekend that Lehman Brothers collapsed.
Lewis might experience some irritation writing that $10 million check, but it isn’t likely to last long: When he announced his resignation in September 2009, he was due to receive pension benefits of $53 million, according to the New York Times, as well as $81 million in stock.
Kolhatkar is a features editor and national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @Sheelahk

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Russia...Without VISA & MasterCard (BusinessWeek)

Russia Gets Ready for Life Without Visa and MasterCard

SMP Bank in Moscow

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lego Cubestormer 3, robots and the future of mobility (TechRepublic)

The Lego Cubestormer 3 recently solved a Rubik's Cube in 3.253 seconds. This robot used a Samsung Galaxy S4 as its brain, so this bodes well for the future of enterprise mobility. 
I have long been fascinated by Lego robotics, and my four-year-old son and I have spent the occasional rainy day looking at online videos of everything from soccer-playing robots to a “pancake printer,” all assembled with Lego components and often controlled by a smartphone. Search this category, and you will also find robots designed to solve the ubiquitous Rubik’s Cube. Recently one of these robots, the Cubestormer 3, set a new record for solving the puzzle in a mere 3.253 seconds. Aside from a fascinating, albeit rather short video, what can Cubestormer tell us about the future of enterprise mobility?

The Android brain

Aside from the amazing Lego craftsmanship behind these types of robots, I’m amazed that their “central nervous systems” are often commodity smartphones. In the case of Cubestormer 3, a Samsung Galaxy S4 provides the robot with vision and processing. When you consider the Rubik’s Cube, it’s a fairly interesting computing problem that has many parallels to industrial automation. There is a set of defined rules on how a solution can be implemented (the various ways to turn the puzzle), a clear end-state (all sides have the same color), and a varying series of steps that get from the starting state to the end state. Furthermore, interpreting the starting state of the problem (how the cube looks at the start) requires optical observation. Like an assembly line robot that performs a precise series of tasks quickly, Cubestormer is optimized to manipulate a Rubik’s Cube; however, it generally starts with a cube in an unknown state, and must first analyze its environment and determine the fastest way to reach the optimized end state. 
It’s fairly easy to see how this same series of steps applies to anything from controlling an automated milling machine, to tracking vehicles entering and existing a facility, to providing access control to a building.
Smartphones might seem more at home posting tweets and sending email, but they’re actually quite effective in what amounts to low cost, highly capable industrial “brain.” The smartphone possesses all the hardware and computing power needed for fairly complex problems, combining the ability to capture and process visual information, the computing power to determine a solution, and the programmability and interfaces to control a machine that can execute the solution, all while visually confirming “quality control.”

The consumerization of industrial controls?

These functions are certainly not new in industrial controls and robotics, but the fact that they’re available in a tiny commodity device that can be acquired for a laughably low comparative price creates amazing possibilities for industrial automation. Just as “consumerization” has changed the face of corporate IT, the technologies and techniques that built Cubestormer may change the face of industrial automation. Rather than controlling a robot designed to manipulate a child’s toy, why not a fleet of semi-autonomous forklifts trolling your warehouse? This technology exists already, but is based on expensive proprietary hardware. Aside from a specialized interface to control the vehicle itself, the average smartphone brings processing, connectivity, and image processing to the party at a fraction of the cost compared to proprietary control solutions.

Getting IT into the act

Many people in the areas where smartphone-driven industrial automation could help the most are unaware of the capabilities presented by these technologies. Even if aware, they may not understand the capabilities, development tools, and possibilities presented by smart mobile devices in this emerging space. With the cost of entry so low, it may be worth establishing a “skunkworks” collaboration between IT and traditional consumers of industrial automation. Some creative thinking and low-cost materials might solve anything from an access management system to automated quality controls. Even sharing IT’s thoughts on the state of the industry can help elevate IT from technology brokers to forward-thinking strategists, a position that will help boost the value of any IT group.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company, and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology, as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Updates regarding port of Houston incident (FCBF)


Florida Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association, Inc.

Updates regarding the port of Houston incident.

This morning, a Port Coordination Team call was held to discuss industry concerns and priorities and to share the Incident Command's status with regard to the Texas City Y Incident.

The Coast Guard has set up a command post at the Doyle Center and Port Coordination Team has been activated to ensure that industry's needs are communicated to the Unified Command.  For further information about the PCT, please see the attached SOP.

Currently, the Coast Guard has two over flights over the channel to look for oil, and believe that a majority of the oil is out of the traffic lanes, however this is not yet confirmed.  Depending on the results of the flights,
the Unified Command may begin to direct Houston Vessel Traffic to begin inbound/outbound traffic movement later today.  The Captain of the Port is hopeful that movements may begin today, including the ferries about which initial reports show no sign of contamination.

The Port of Houston Authority, as well as the overwhelming majority of private facilities on the channel are currently open, and operating as though it were a fog day - "vessels are lining up at anchorage, and it will be pretty busy when we get moving again, but you can drop off empties, and landside operations are running as normal".

The Coast Guard was able to move three cruise ships in yesterday, all of which will be decontaminated, and the Unified Command is setting up decontamination stations for any ships affected by the spill.

Area conditions have pushed some of the oil out through the jetties, and NOAA reports that beginning on Tuesday, weather in the area may become quite mess - winds to E/SE at 20-25 knots with 4-7 foot swells - so any vessel in the safety zones, including those out at anchorage that may have become contaminated are urged to self-report to Incident Command so that they may be queued for cleaning priority.

The next PCT call will be held at 1500 this afternoon, and we will keep you updated as information comes in.


Florida Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association, Inc.

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"Our mission in serving the Customs Brokers, Forwarders and the Trade Community as a whole, is to act as a forum for the interchange of ideas, promote greater knowledge and understanding among its members, encourage unity of purpose, ideals and ethics in addition to disseminating information of interest to the community and our members while advocating on their behalf."

Jimmy Carter: 'I Believe if I Send an Email, It Will Be Monitored'

Former President Jimmy Carter. (photo: AP)
By Dylan Stableford,                 Yahoo! News
ormer President Jimmy Carter believes U.S. intelligence agencies are spying on him — so much so, he eschews email to avoid government spies.
"You know, I have felt that my own communications are probably monitored," Carter told NBC's Andrea Mitchell in an interview broadcast Sunday. "And when I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately, I type or write a letter myself, put it in the post office and mail it.
"I believe if I send an email, it will be monitored," Carter continued.
The 89-year-old said the National Security Agency and others have abused the argument that gathering intelligence is critical to homeland security.
"That has been extremely liberalized and, I think, abused by our own intelligence agencies," Carter said.
The 39th president, however, stopped short of criticizing No. 44 over the handling of the N.S.A. scandal, the crisis in Ukraine or anything else.
"I don't have any criticism of him," Carter said of Obama.
He was asked if the the president ever asks him for advice.
"Unfortunately, the answer is no," Carter said. "President Obama doesn't. But previous presidents have called on me and the Carter Center to take action."
Why not Obama?
"That's a hard question for me to answer, you know, with complete candor," he said. "I think the problem was that in dealing with the issue of peace between Israel and Egypt, the Carter Center [took] a very strong and public position of equal treatment between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I think this was a sensitive area in which the president didn't want to be involved."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From FCBF: News

Fresh Plaza - PortMiami Receives 
First Shipment of Peruvian Blueberries
March 19, 2014

Port of Miami receives first shipment of Peruvian blueberries

PortMiami announced today that the first direct shipment of Peruvian blueberries arrived at the port, ready for immediate distribution. The shipment, delivered on APL Lines, is part of PortMiami's successful cold treatment pilot program authorized by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

PortMiami's cold treatment pilot program began last October and has opened a new trade route between Peru and Miami by allowing the direct import of cold treatment grapes and blueberries directly to Miami.  

"PortMiami is very pleased at the arrival of this inaugural shipment from Peru," said Port Director Bill Johnson. "This is great news for shippers and consumers alike, as using PortMiami extends shelf life and gets fruit rapidly to consumers."

PortMiami is the closest U.S. port to the fruit-growing regions of the Americas and provides a direct link to the southeastern U.S.  Time is money when it comes to perishable goods and using newly-opened routes via PortMiami ensures the most efficient delivery of goods to markets along the eastern seaboard and into America's heartland.  As a part of this new pilot, produce from Peru that arrived at PortMiami has been sent to markets such as Atlanta, Maryland and Chicago.

Pat Compres and Maria Bermudez of Advance Customs Brokers & Consulting agree:  "It's a great opportunity for the produce industry in general. With this, come other avenues for shipping and the opening of possible new markets. We worked hard with our partners in Peru to bring the product to Miami and are thrilled to be part of this new and exciting program."

The pilot program is a great addition to protocols that expedite the processing of perishables through the Port. Using PortMiami as a perishables gateway allows the distribution of goods to market more quickly than many Northeastern ports, which often face congestion challenges and winter weather delays.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Robots: Conquering the home...(TechRepublic)

After space exploration and war, robots are ready for their biggest challenge: Conquering the home

By  in European Technology,                                            March 18, 2014
Doing the vacuuming is just the begining; do we need robots to save us all from a ticking demographic timebomb? 
Colin Angle's presentation comes across as an unexpected combination of a TED talk on the future of robotics and a paean to the virtues of scrubbing your kitchen floor more regularly. 

That's because Angle, the CEO of iRobot - maker of the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner - knows that while talk of artificial intelligence is fascinating to some, his devices will only sell if he can convince the average consumer that bots will do a better job of cleaning up than they could themselves.

"The industry has been traditionally been full of companies that are so excited by the technology, by walking android-like machines, that they forget why they are building robots in the first place," he says.

The history of iRobot follows a similar theme, with exotic but small projects gradually giving way to the perhaps more mundane, but much more mass market, adoption of robots. 

The company has been building robots for close to a quarter of a century, starting out with developing the most boys-own bots imaginable, ones designed for lunar exploration. This was followed by robots used in bomb disposal and other military settings; then the company moved into the consumer space with toys and finally the robot vacuum cleaners that have brought iRobot mainstream success.  

The company has now sold 10 million of its Roomba autonomous vacuum cleaners – squat, over-grown-hockey-puck-bots which look about as far from anthropomorphic androids as possible.It's probably the opposite to how you'd imagine a robotics company's products would evolve, to start with space exploration and end up in vacuuming, but for Angle it's thinking like that which is precisely why robots have failed to break through sooner.

"Trying to think of robots as mimicking humans is a mistake. We should not – as the robot industry tried to – create artificial people that look like artificial people unless we're doing entertainment," he says.

Around 90 percent of iRobot's business is these domestic robots and even if for some paying £700 for a robot vacuum cleaner or £450 for a robot to mop your floor might seem extravagant, it's a market that is growing at 30 percent per year, which for Angle vindicates the company's focus on the domestic over the gee-whiz.

Instead of droids that look like us, Angle would prefer his bots to be invisible. "The perfect vacuum cleaning robot is invisible, you don't talk to it, it doesn't flash with lights, you never see it, you never touch it. That's what we're shooting for," he says.

Meet the 'throwbot' 

While the vacuum cleaners are the best known of iRobot's devices, the company's current portfolio stretches from domestic robots through to military devices and now business robots, which I saw at a launch event in Munich. For example around 5,000 of the company's PackBot military robots have been deployed into warzones to be used as part of bomb disposal, and are able to lift 320lb and climb over very difficult terrain.

"In some ways you might think you are looking at a very exotic impressive machine but I would tell you what you are truly looking at is the world's first practical human," Angle said. The point he is making: just because a robot takes on a job that a human would otherwise do, that doesn't mean that it has to look like a human.

In contrast to the large scale PackBot, the company's 'FirstLook' is a shoe-box sized robot on tracks, which soldiers can use to explore areas too small or too dangerous for humans. It's also known as the 'throwbot' because it's light enough to be thrown onto a roof or (double glazing permitting) through a window to get a better view from its multiple cameras.

Throwing a robot worth tens of thousands of dollars across the room is a new experience for me, but the iRobot staff are more far worried about me smashing a glass panel in a nearby staircase than they are about me damaging the bot. When someone inadvertently steers the diminutive robot under a raised platform the staff simply switch on its infra-red camera to help them steer it back out of the darkness.

Despite their differences in scale and capabilities, many of the machines in iRobot's lineup share common elements or heritage; the 'iAdapt' algorithm the Roomba uses to make sure it has thoroughly cleaned a floor was originally developed for the US Department of Defence for mine hunting. They're also united in their focus on utility, which Angle says has been key to the company since its inception in Boston in 1990.

"We did have this notion that we had to be solving practical problems and the way we were going to create this industry was robots that delivered more value than they cost to build," he said.

The Roomba vacuum cleaner came out of a two-engineer $15,000 proof-of-concept project which sold 70,000 robots in the first three months, with demand so great that retailers were willing to pay for the machines to be flown in from China. 

Vacuuming might seem to be a rather dowdy usage of artificial intelligence and engineering smarts, but Angle sees it differently. "I think it says the industry is growing up a bit because if you want to be a big major player in the world then you have to be solving a big major problem," he says. 

And after years of failing to live up to the science fiction ideal, robotics has suddenly become an incredibly hot area.

Robots - the next big thing 

Over the last few months Google has bought some of the biggest robotics companies includingBoston Dynamics (which created the 'Big Dog' rough terrain robot that can carry heavy loads) Meka Robotics and Redwood Robotics, all of which will be part of Google's robot strategyheaded (fittingly) by Android creator Andy Rubin. Google's work on driverless cars also feeds into the logistics jigsaw; think convoys of driverless trucks.

Similarly, Amazon bought warehouse automation company Kiva back in 2012 and has showcased its plans to use drones for deliveries, a service it calls Prime Air.

Robots are intriguing for these big tech companies for a couple of reasons. One major factor is simply the operational efficiency that robots can offer – in this case the ability to automate tasks, from picking products in a warehouse to cheaper delivery; a new variation on the dull, dirty, dangerous type jobs that robots have been used in for many years. Anything that can get products picked and shipped faster can give one e-commerce retailer the cost saving it needs to leap ahead of the competition.

But at a deeper level these tech giants are also intrigued because robots bridge the physical and digital worlds. The sensors on a robot can provide much more information about their human owners than their web history or smartphone data. And as the smartphone market reaches saturation, robots become an obvious next step for the tech giants keen to gather as much information about the real world as possible.

This combination of sensors, robotics and smarter algorithms are all elements of the internet of things, although when it comes to robots and sensors in the home, we're really talking about the internet of us. For example, researchers have already demonstrated just how much you can infer from some relatively basic sensor data such as power consumption, CO2 levels and humidity.

Pretty much every major tech company wants to provide that gateway to the connected home whether that's through entertainment; you can argue the Xbox One is part of Microsoft's strategy here, or through sensors; Google's acquisition of Nest implies some intriguing futures; or through robots.Angle seems relaxed about which company wins the battle to own the software gateway to the home, saying "we'll let them fight it out," but wants iRobot's devices to be the hardware, the physical presence within the home, and foresees a "menagerie of robots" cooking and cleaning, monitoring and maintaining.

These robots won't look like humans – they don't need to. A washing machine and dishwasher both do jobs originally done by humans, but neither have arms and legs. But Angle thinks there will soon be one android-style robot in the home: "There is a robot that maybe brings it all together that is focused on interacting with you, this human interface robot, this butler robot."

You can see the first steps towards this in one of iRobot's latest models. The Ava 500 is the only remotely human-looking robot that the company has, made up of a column topped with a large screen; a roving video-conference robot which can be programmed to meet you at your desk or find its own way to a meeting room. Or glide around the office to come and find you at your desk if you try to skip a meeting (like a Dalek, it can't climb stairs. Yet.)

While the robot is currently sold to the business market, Angle sees this deployment as a proving ground for its eventual move in to the home.The idea is to create a more physical presence for the person at the other end; the screen can be lowered to simulate sitting down, or turn to address other people at a meeting.

Talking to someone via the robot – here and yet not here - is a disconcerting experience because giving them a physical, gliding mobile presence through the robot really does alter the dynamic in a way that a static webcam chat on a laptop never would. It even puts the language we use under strain, plasticising some of the basics of discourse; when I'm talking to one of the iRobot execs who has stayed back at the Boston HQ I ask: "What's it like for you to be here?" even though they aren't 'here' and the 'you' isn't them.

Angle sees something like this as the basis – a decade down the line perhaps – of a general purpose robot companion that would  manage the other robots in the home, as well as allowing doctors to carry out remote diagnosis by taking control of it, or friends or family to 'visit'.

It's not the only vision of the future and many might be reluctant to share their homes with a robot, preferring to build that sort of intelligence into the building itself; like Siri embedded in the walls of your home. Angle argues that physical robots give you a better chance at privacy than an all-knowing smart house because you can at least slam a door on a robot.

Still not everyone is convinced that we're about to see the dawn of domestic robots. Making the leap from vacuuming to more general application of robots could still be a long way off, says Martin Smith, Professor of Robotics at Middlesex University: "The thing about robot floor cleaners is that is the easiest task a robot could do. If you want a robot to do anything more complex you're really stuck. If you wanted it to iron a shirt that is terribly difficult, even walking up stairs is difficult for a robot unless it has tracks." 

He adds: "There's a kind of romantic notion that we are going to build a robot human in my lifetime that's going to be useful and economically viable. I suspect it won't happen."

Robots in an ageing society

But it could be that in the longer term robots are the only way of defusing the demographic time-bombs that are ticking across much of the developed world. 

Governments are already finding it harder to pay for the care needed by their ageing populations – and the staff to do those jobs too."We need to find technology that will allow people to live independently in their own homes which happily is what they want to do anyway for as long as possible or else society is going to face a decrease in its standard of living," Angle warns.

For many of gen X-ers in 30 years time it may become a choice between living in our own homes with a robot, or moving into some sort of assisted housing as we get old. At which point that robot stops looking like a Dalek and a lot more like your best friend.

Of course there are plenty of other companies in the area, but Angle remains convinced that robots are the answer.  "If you are rooting for iRobot great, if not root for someone else. But root for robots to come in and make our ability to live independently greater and greater over time - because we need it."

TechRepublic travelled to Munich to meet Colin Angle as a guest of iRobot
Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

10% discount

Half of U.S. Business Schools Might Be Gone by 2020 (BusinessWeek)

Half of U.S. Business Schools Might Be Gone by 2020

Richard Lyons, the dean of University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, has a dire forecast for business education: “Half of the business schools in this country could be out of business in 10 years—or five,” he says.
The threat, says Lyons, is that more top MBA programs will start to offer degrees online. That will imperil the industry’s business model. For most business schools, students pursuing part-time and executive MBAs generate crucial revenue. Those programs, geared toward working professionals, will soon have to compete with elite online alternatives for the same population.
Lower-ranked business schools, rather than recognized names such as Harvard Business School and Wharton, are most vulnerable to this phenomenon. When the big players start offering online degrees, they’ll draw far-flung students who might otherwise have opted for the convenience of a part-time program close to home.
Part-time and EMBA programs are a financial engine because they award less financial aid than full-time programs. Since most of their students are corporate strivers already living near campus—and because competition for those students is limited by geography—part-time programs can count on a steady stream of high-quality attendees.
Say you’re a consultant with young kids in Phoenix who wants to boost her career with a business degree. You’d probably choose a part-time MBA program at the University of Arizona or Arizona State University because committing to a long stint away from home is impossible. Education technology “has the potential to make the proximity factor go away,” says Lyons, taking some high-margin students with it.
While most schools don’t publish the total amount of financial aid they award MBAs, Lyons estimates that the average full-time student at an elite school gets a 25 percent discount on tuition. At part-time and EMBA programs, the average student pays something much closer to the sticker price.
If brand-name schools lure the best students, part-time programs with lesser reputations may have to become less selective, says Lyons. Without a high quality student body, they have less of an argument for staying in business. They’ll have to ask themselves: “How down-market would you go?”
While few top-tier schools have put MBA programs online, a slew of other business schools have. The elites are slowly warming to the digital world, dabbling in non-degree online education. Online education has mostly shed the stigma of association with such down market institutions as DeVry University and University of Phoenix; as its legitimacy grows, Wharton, Stanford, and their ilk are likely to offer online degrees.
Big names have strong brand recognition that attracts top students (and helps justify their price tags). A school like the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management can compete on price against higher-ranked programs, but that might not be enough to hold on to that Phoenix-based executive—at least, if she’s good enough to get into an online program from Wharton or Stanford.
Online MBA programs aren’t siphoning choice students from campuses yet, says Ash Soni, executive associate dean at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Kelley ranks 15th on Bloomberg Businessweek’s list of full-time programs and was an early player in online MBAs. The school draws students from across the country, but it is more likely to compete with online MBA programs offered by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and Arizona State’sCarey School of Business. Says Soni: “If you’re a dean from a regional school and you’re asking, ‘Are these online guys tapping into my space?’ The answer is: maybe in the future, but not yet.”
Michael Desiderio, the executive director of the Executive MBA Council, says change is coming, but his group isn’t panicking. “We’re not saying it’s a threat or this is the end of the EMBA space,” he says. “It’s stimulating a discussion: How do we adapt to continue to serve a population that has changing needs?”
Online education is sure to shift the ways schools compete for students. For-profit MBA programs such as DeVry’s Keller School of Management have been the early losers as more traditional universities go online, says Robert Lytle, a partner in the education practice at consultancy Parthenon Group. That trend could extend to lower-ranked schools as the big-name brands follow.
When Lytle talks to directors at schools who are debating the merits of online learning, he tells them to stop dallying and start building programs. “Once you get out of the top tier of schools, you’re either already online, on your way there, or dead in the water,” he says. It isn’t clear which online models will be most successful, but many schools are feeling pressure to get on board. When Villanova School of Business announced a new online MBA program earlier this year, Dean Patrick Maggitti said there has never been a more uncertain time in higher education. “I think it’s smart strategy to be looking at options in this market.”
Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering small business and entrepreneurship.