Friday, July 31, 2015

Chinese factory replaces 90% of humans with robots, production soars

Changying Precision Technology Company in Dongguan city has set up an unmanned factory run almost entirely by robots. The factory has since seen a fewer defects and a higher rate of production

The gravest fear that has rippled through humanity from the technology industry is that, someday, almost all of our jobs will be replaced by robots.

While that fear is often laughed off as something that will only happen far into the future, the truth is that it's actually happening right now.

In Dongguan City, located in the central Guangdong province of China, a technology company has set up a factory run almost exclusively by robots, and the results are fascinating.

The Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan has automated production lines that use robotic arms to produce parts for cell phones. The factory also has automated machining equipment, autonomous transport trucks, and other automated equipment in the warehouse.

There are still people working at the factory, though. Three workers check and monitor each production line and there are other employees who monitor a computer control systems. Previously, there were 650 employees at the factory. With the new robots, there's now only 60. Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the company, told the People's Daily that the number of employees could drop even further to 20 in the future.

The robots have produced almost three times as many pieces as were produced before. According to the People's Daily, production per person has increased from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces. That's a 162.5% increase.

The increased production rate hasn't come at the cost of quality either. In fact, quality has improved. Before the robots, the product defect rate was 25%, now it is below 5%.

Shenzhen Evenwin Precision Technology, also based in Dongguan, announced a similar effort in May 2015. This region of China if often referred to as the "world's workshop" due to the high number of factories located there.

The shift happening with automation has been in the works for many similar companies in the area for quite some time. Foxconn, the controversial manufacturer of many gadgets such as the iPhone and iPad announced its robot initiative back in 2011.

Dongguan is about an hour's car ride north of Shenzhen, which is widely regarded as the one of the top regions in the world for gadget manufacturing. The growth of robotics in the area's factories comes amidst a particularly harsh climate around factory worker conditions, highlighted by strikes in the area. One can only wonder whether automation will add fuel to the fire or quell some of the unrest.

Some of the influx of robotics in the region is due to the Made in China 2025 initiative, and we will continue to see automation affect the area and potentially reduce the number of manufacturing jobs. Additionally, in March, 2015, the Guangdong government announced a three year plan to increase automation in the region by subsidizing the purchase of robots.

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), electronics production was one of the biggest growth drivers for the sales of industrial robots. China was the largest market for industrial robotics in 2014 with nearly 60,000 robots sold.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Black Hat 2015: Cool talks, hot threat intel (ZDNet)

With Black Hat USA 2015 starting in just a few days, we've got a shortlist of the hottest talks slated for this year's largest domestic professional infosec conference.
blackhat usa 2015

With Black Hat USA 2015 starting in just a few days, we've got a shortlist of the hottest talks slated for this year's largest domestic professional infosec conference.

Black Hat turns 18 as it returns to Las Vegas from August 1-6 -- for six days of trainings, over 100 talks, acres of booths and displays in the Expo Hall, all the biggest company names in information security on display... and a smorgasbord of events tailored to hackers, corporate information security professionals, and government infosec pros.

This year's lineup of must-see presentations is overwhelming, and there are dozens upon dozens of critical, newsworthy talks to choose from -- and if you're attending in any capacity, making your final decisions on talks won't be easy.

We recommend using our short list below as a starting point to inspire your planning. Speaking of planning ahead, we also recommend that you peruse Rapid7's Black Hat Attendee Guide, covering general survival, how to get the most out of talks, networking and more.

Black Hat USA's 2015 topics read like a what's-what of everything important to those working in today's most-watched business sector -- information security and technology.

Hot themes include request forgery, threat intel, machine learning, data exfiltration, ransomware, fuzzing, car hacking, and -- of course -- enough talks to make you think that Mandalay Bay is offering an all-you-can-eat malware buffet. Oh, and don't forget this year's Pwnie Awards, featuring both OPM and Ashley Madison in a neck-and-neck nomination for Most Epic FAIL.

Here's our cherry-picked shortlist of hot talks to see at Black Hat USA 2015.


Talk: Winning The Online Banking War

Speaker: Sean Park

Talk: Crash & Pay: How To Own And Clone Contactless Payment Devices

Speaker: Peter Fillmore


Talk: Zigbee Exploited The Good The Bad And The Ugly

Speakers: Tobias Zillner, Sebastian Strobl

Talk: Thunderstrike 2: Sith Strike

Speakers: Trammell Hudson, Xeno Kovah, Corey Kallenberg


Talk: BGP Stream

Speakers: Dan Hubbard, Andree Toonk

Talk: Breaking Honeypots For Fun And Profit

Speakers: Dean Sysman, Gadi Evron, Itamar Sher

Talk: Getting It Right: Straight Talk On Threat & Information Sharing

Speakers: Trey Ford, Kevin Bankston, Rebekah Brown, Brian Engle, Mark Hammell

Talk: Take A Hacker To Work Day - How Federal Prosecutors Use The CFAA

Speaker: Leonard Bailey


Talk: Cloning 3g/4g Sim Cards With A PC And An Oscilloscope: Lessons Learned In Physical Security

Speaker(s): Yu Yu

Talk: Emanate Like A Boss: Generalized Covert Data Exfiltration With Funtenna

Speaker: Ang Cui

Talk: Big Game Hunting: The Peculiarities Of Nation-State Malware Research

Speakers: Morgan Marquis-Boire, Marion Marschalek, Claudio Guarnieri

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Italy's 'bill of rights for the internet' published - but what about net neutrality?

While the reception to the Italian bill of rights for web users has been broadly positive, some questions remain.

It was a race against time, but the ad hoc committee appointed in July last year by the president of Italy's Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, to write a 'bill of rights for the internet, kept its promise to deliver the document within twelve months.

Yesterday the final version - meant to serve as the foundation for defining web users' rights and obligations - was officially made public, under the name of the 'Declaration of Internet Rights'.

A first draft was revealed last October by the committee - formed of politicians from all parliamentary parties and independent experts in the field - and was then was subject to a four-month public consultation.

Participation seems to have been relatively low: the draft was accessed 14,000 times and received 590 comments, according to data provided by Boldrini; not much, for such an important topic, but this is perhaps unsurprising in a country where almost one-third of the population has never used the internet.

What was missing in quantity was, however, made up in quality: interviews with a number of relevant stakeholders were scheduled - from telcos like H3G, Wind, and Telecom Italia to Confindustria Digitale (the branch of the Italian entrepreneurs' association that deals with all things digital), and people belonging to sectors deeply involved in the country's digital transformation, such as lawyers and cybersecurity experts.

The result of all these processes was that the Declaration was streamlined, and its rough edges were smoothed out - particularly with regards to one of the most controversial points, the article on net neutrality.

In its original form, the draft bill contained a passage on the need to preserve net neutrality to "maintain the creative capability of the internet, also with regard to producing innovation".

In the final version, that sentence was removed, leaving the phrase: "The right to neutral access to the internet in its entirety is a necessary condition for the effectiveness of an individual's fundamental rights".

The bill's wording is not a matter of chance; while not mentioning net neutrality directly, for instance, it's clear that the world "entirety" could refer to platforms like Facebook's, which claims to offer internet access for users in developing countries, but only offers access to sites of its choosing. Such a service, according to the principles of the bill, is not acceptable.

Suggestions from the public consultation were taken into account, and some were included in the final version. "For instance, in the first version, we wrote of 'personal identity', but then someone pointed out that people, on the internet, should be free to maintain several identities, so we used the plural noun," co-director of the Nexa Center for Internet & Society at the Politecnico of Turin, Juan Carlos De Martin, a member of the bill of rights committee, told ZDNet.

Another significant change was the introduction in the second article of the Declaration of a paragraph which reads: "Access to the internet is a fundamental right of all persons and a condition for their individual and social development".

There are countries, like Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ecuador, Spain, and France in which internet access is considered (in one form or another) a fundamental right of all citizens; Italy is not among them, so that, if the Declaration becomes law or - more likely - is used by the MPs as a useful framework on which to base proposals aimed at updating legislation, it would have already had some positive impact on the current landscape.

So far, in fact, the document is just what it promises to be: a "declaration" of intent, with no real normative value. It will be up to Boldrini - and the Parliament - to transform it in something more: a commitment by the government to adopt its principles as a guide when involved in Internet-related negotiations, on a national or international level.

Italy's ambitions, however, go way beyond that: the goal is to promote the Declaration globally as a model for defining web users' rights and obligations, with the help of the World Wide Web Foundation.

Stefano Rodotà, an internationally-recognized expert in the field who led the Italian committee, and Tim Berners-Lee, the 'father of the web' and founder of the WWW Foundation, will discuss the document with other delegates of the Internet Governance Forum to be held in Joa Pessoa, Brazil in November.

Before then, the document may be improved and tweaked further after some points came in for criticism from national and international supporters. Some commentators believe that the Declaration does not address properly the issue on freedom of speech on the internet, confusing the right to connectivity with being able to express one's ideas.

Others criticized the lack of any reference to cryptography to protect anonymity, in the document. "What they failed to notice," De Martin says, "is that the Declaration clearly says that 'every person may access the internet and communicate electronically using instruments, including technical systems' to protect their anonymity. We preferred a more generic phrase because while now cryptography is important, in the future, other solutions may appear."

The World Wide Web Foundation itself does not seem fully convinced and while praising and supporting the work of the Italian committee, believes that "the Bill falls short in protecting anonymity and encryption, while clauses around data retention are unclear".

However, the document has received very positive reviews overall; the final impact on the rights of Italian internet users, and its influence on the internet governance debate currently taking place internationally, will depend on factors beyond the reach of those who drafted it: namely, Italian diplomacy's ability to exert an influence on a global stage, and its Parliament's willingness not to waste the good job done so far.

Monday, July 27, 2015

How Berlin’s Futuristic Airport Became a $6 Billion Embarrassment (BusinessWeek)

Inside Germany’s profligate (Greek-like!) fiasco called Berlin Brandenburg

The inspectors could hardly believe what they were seeing. Summoned from their headquarters near Munich, the team of logistics, safety, and aviation experts had arrived at newly constructed Berlin Brandenburg International Willy Brandt Airport in the fall of 2011 to begin a lengthy series of checks and approvals for the €600 million ($656 million) terminal on the outskirts of the German capital. Expected to open the following June, the airport, billed as Europe’s “most modern,” was intended to handle 27 million passengers a year and crown Berlin as the continent’s 21st century crossroads.

The team of inspectors, known as ORAT, for Operations Readiness and Airport Transfer, brought in a dummy plane and volunteers as test passengers. They examined everything from baggage carousels and security gates to the fire protection system. The last was an especially high priority: None could forget the 1996 fire that roared through Düsseldorf Airport’s passenger terminal, killing 17.

When they simulated a fire, though, the system went haywire. Some alarms failed to activate. Others indicated a fire, but in the wrong part of the terminal. The explanation was buried in the 55-mile tangle of wiring that had been laid, hastily, beneath the floors of the building where ORAT technicians soon discovered high-voltage power lines alongside data and heating cables—a fire hazard in its own right. That wasn’t all. Smoke evacuation canals designed to suck out smoke and replace it with fresh air failed to do either. In an actual fire, the inspectors determined, the main smoke vent might well implode.

Confronted with the fire system fiasco, Rainer Schwarz, chief executive officer of Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg (FBB), the airport company owned by the city of Berlin, the state of Brandenburg, and the federal government, downplayed it. Schwarz and his staff told the airport’s board of oversight, as well as Stephan Loge, the commissioner of Dahme-Spreewald County, who had the final authority to issue the airport an operating license, that they were working through some issues, but that the situation was under control. Schwarz also appointed an emergency task force to propose solutions that would allow the airport to open on time. In March 2012 the group submitted its stopgap: Eight hundred low-paid workers armed with cell phones would take up positions throughout the terminal. If anyone smelled smoke or saw a fire, he would alert the airport fire station and direct passengers toward the exits. Never mind that the region’s cell phone networks were notoriously unreliable, or that some students would be stationed near the smoke evacuation channels, where in a fire temperatures could reach 1,000F.

It was, says Martin Delius, “an idiotic plan.” Delius is a physicist and member of Berlin’s parliament who has conducted an extensive investigation of the airport’s troubled infrastructure. “They thought that this would at least eliminate the need for wiring,” he says, “because [the spotters] could see with their own eyes if there is a mass of smoke lower than 6 feet above the ground.”

Schwarz continued to prepare for the opening, and the German public remained oblivious. By April 2012, airport fever was consuming Berlin. Mayor Klaus Wowereit sent out 3,000 invitations for the Hoffest, the annual mayoral ball at the 19th century City Hall, printing the entry tickets on mock boarding cards. Billboards went up, showing a photomontage of the airport’s namesake and famous Cold War leader embracing passengers, with the legend, “Willy Brandt greets the world!” Preparations continued for an extravagant inaugural. Angela Merkel, the chancellor, was to disembark from a government jet and stroll down a red carpet to the glass-walled terminal, which would have been filled with expensive food and drink. On the night of June 2, in a stunt-like mobilization, thousands of workers would shuttle 600 truckloads of equipment and a fleet of 60-ton aircraft tugs 19 miles down a sealed-off expressway from Berlin-Tegel, Berlin’s main airport, in the northwest corner of the city, and Tegel would shut down forever the same day the new airport came online.But in the town of Lübben, in what used to be East Germany, Commissioner Loge had his doubts. 

He and his own staff of building inspectors had spent many hours examining the fire protection system at the Tropical Islands Resort, an indoor paradise set in a former airship hangar in Brandenburg. One of the world’s largest freestanding structures, it draws up to 6,000 warmth-and-beach-deprived Germans a day. “It was far more complicated than the one at Berlin Brandenburg airport, and it worked,” Loge says.On May 7, less than four weeks before the scheduled opening, Loge met with Schwarz for the first time. The airport, Schwarz conceded, would have to open using the army of human fire detectors.“Professor, let me understand this,” Loge said. “You are talking about having 800 people wearing orange vests, sitting on camping stools, holding thermoses filled with coffee, and shouting into their cell phones, ‘Open the fire door’?” Loge refused the airport an operating license. 

Schwarz stood up and walked out without another word.The next day, in a hall packed with government officials and journalists, Schwarz sat grimly behind a table with four other officials, including Mayor Wowereit, and announced the unthinkable: The airport wouldn’t open as scheduled. The inaugural bash and overnight move from Tegel were scuttled.It was merely a prelude to a debacle that is still unfolding. Three years later, Berlin Brandenburg has wrecked careers and joined two other bloated projects—Stuttgart 21, a years-late railway station €2 billion over budget, and an €865 million concert hall in Hamburg—in tarnishing Germany’s reputation for order, efficiency, and engineering mastery.

At the very moment Merkel and her allies are hectoring the Greeks about their profligacy, the airport’s cost, borne by taxpayers, has tripled to €5.4 billion. Two airport company directors (including Schwarz), three technical chiefs, the architects, and dozens if not hundreds of others have been fired or forced to quit, or have left in disgust. The government spends €16 million per month just to prevent the huge facility from falling into disrepair. According to the most optimistic scenarios, it won’t check in its first passengers until 2017, and sunny pronouncements have long since given way to “catastrophe,” “farce,” and “the building site of horror.” There is a noted German word for the delight some took in the mess, too. 

On May 7, less than four weeks before the scheduled opening, Loge met with Schwarz for the first time. The airport, Schwarz conceded, would have to open using the army of human fire detectors.“Professor, let me understand this,” Loge said. “You are talking about having 800 people wearing orange vests, sitting on camping stools, holding thermoses filled with coffee, and shouting into their cell phones, ‘Open the fire door’?” 

Loge refused the airport an operating license. Schwarz stood up and walked out without another word.The next day, in a hall packed with government officials and journalists, Schwarz sat grimly behind a table with four other officials, including Mayor Wowereit, and announced the unthinkable: The airport wouldn’t open as scheduled. The inaugural bash and overnight move from Tegel were scuttled.It was merely a prelude to a debacle that is still unfolding. Three years later, Berlin Brandenburg has wrecked careers and joined two other bloated projects—Stuttgart 21, a years-late railway station €2 billion over budget, and an €865 million concert hall in Hamburg—in tarnishing Germany’s reputation for order, efficiency, and engineering mastery.

In the beginning, Berlin Brandenburg airport was at best an economically unnecessary symbol of unity and growth. In October 1990, when politicians and planners began a search for ways of bridging the city’s long East-West divide, Berlin had three modest-size airports: Tempelhof, famed as the site of the 1948 Berlin Airlift; Schönefeld, opened in 1946, which later became the main airport serving Communist East Germany; and Tegel, a gem of efficiency that opened in 1948. By 1995 about 12 million people flew in and out of the city each year. After years of languishing as a Cold War backwater, Berlin was on the rise. By 2020, passenger totals were projected to reach 22 million.

In 2001, Wowereit sensed an opportunity. A gray-haired extrovert who bears a certain resemblance to the actor Alec Baldwin, “Wowi,” as he’s known, had earned a reputation as both a party animal and a rainmaker. He attracted free-spirited events to the city, such as an international S&M fetish street party, and proudly proclaimed, “I’m gay, and that’s a good thing.” “Is Germany Ready for a Gay Chancellor?” Der Spiegel asked after the Social Democrat’s landslide reelection in 2006. The Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport was to be his legacy in the city, while possibly paving the way for national office. (Wowereit declined to be interviewed for this article.)

To design the airport, FBB landed Meinhard von Gerkan, Germany’s most famous architect, a septuagenarian with a mane of white hair who’d made his name at age 30 with the Tegel Airport. The founding partner of Hamburg-based firm von Gerkan, Marg, & Partners, he’s known to squabble publicly with project managers when he feels that his artistic vision has been compromised.

The third key player was Schwarz, who was appointed CEO of the airport management company in 2006. A U.S.-trained economist who’d run Düsseldorf Airport, Schwarz had a reputation as a cost-cutting technocrat—just the man for the job. After considering a half-dozen sites, including a former Russian army base, the airport management team from FBB broke ground in 2006 on a vast plot just a couple of miles from the existing runways at Schönefeld.

The project’s first complications stemmed from Schwarz and Wowereit’s ever-changing ambitions. With construction under way, Schwarz, seizing on increasing forecasts for air traffic (up to 27 million passengers at that point), had von Gerkan add north and south “piers” to the main terminal, turning it from a rectangle into a “U” and dramatically enlarging the floor space. Schwarz also dreamed of making the airport a Dubai-like luxury mall. Airports earn significant money from nonaviation businesses, the FBB boss noted, so why not insert a second level, jammed with shops, boutiques, and food courts? Von Gerkan derided what he called the Vermallung of the airport—its “mallification”—but he capitulated to Schwarz’s demands.

According to Boris Hermel, a TV and radio correspondent who has covered the airport saga from the beginning, and other sources, Wowereit and Schwarz fell hard for an airplane: the Airbus A380, the double-decker, widebody, four-engine jetliner capable of seating 853 people. While no airline indicated it wanted to fly this monstrosity to Berlin, the men called for the walls at one end of the terminal to be ripped out so that an extra-wide gate could be built to accommodate it. “The clients were tripping over each other with requests for changes,” von Gerkan later said.

Germany spends €16 million a month just to maintain the unfinished facility.

In his investigation, Delius examined tens of thousands of internal FBB e-mails. “The people responsible for technical oversight were saying, ‘We cannot do this within this amount of time,’ and Schwarz would answer, ‘I don’t care,’ ” he says.

The architecture and engineering teams fought to keep up. As the terminal ballooned from 200,000 to 340,000 square meters (dwarfing Frankfurt’s 240,000 and just shy of Heathrow Terminal 5’s 353,000), they parceled out the work to seven contractors. That soon grew to 35, and they brought in hundreds of subcontractors, says Delius. Several engineering and electronics companies, led by the German giants Siemens and Bosch, struggled to retain control over the complex fire protection system that included 3,000 fire doors, 65,000 sprinklers, thousands of smoke detectors, a labyrinth of smoke evacuation ducts, and the equivalent of 55 miles of cables.

“Our part, the detection of hot air or smoke ... is functioning,” says Thilo Resenhoeft, a Bosch spokesman. “The responsibility for the dysfunction lies with somebody else.” Siemens spokesman Oliver Santen confirms that the company was originally responsible for building the “automated fire protection facility” and “the control unit for fresh-air circulation.” Testing in 2013 “showed the need for reworking part of the system,” he says. Santen declines to attribute responsibility other than to say that Siemens is “responsible for the reconstruction of the fresh-air circulation system.”

Each addition ordered up by Schwarz required shifting passenger flows through the terminal. That meant rebuilding walls, exits, emergency lights, ventilation systems, windows, elevators, and staircases. At one point, in 2009, outside controllers urged Schwarz and his engineering chief to shut down construction for half a year to give the architects and contractors time to coordinate efforts. Schwarz, Delius says, ignored them. Just months before the scheduled June 2012 opening, the terminal was a mess. Careless workers stepped on and shattered glass being installed by other companies. Heavy equipment rolled across the terminal floor, scratching expensive tiles. Tempers flared; small contractors complained they weren’t getting paid and threatened to walk off the job.

 “The number of defects that they’ve found has grown to 150,000”

Following the humiliating announcement in May 2012 that the grand opening was off, the theater of the absurd escalated as executives, board members, and contractors turned on one another. Schwarz presented the board with a list of accusations against von Gerkan and his firm, charging that the architects had misled management with overoptimistic reports on their progress. The architects were fired, along with dozens of other key planners, slowing the project further. “Schwarz lost all their know-how,” says Hermel, the radio journalist. “They were back at Square One.”

Von Gerkan shot back. In a 2013 tell-all book, Black Box BER, he accused Schwarz of resisting all attempts at dialogue. Schwarz “had no concept, only insatiable demands,” von Gerkan wrote, and lived inside “a fairy tale.” That same year, after it became clear that Wowereit’s repeated predictions of an imminent opening were unrealistic, the mayor stepped down as chairman of the board of oversight. (He later resigned as mayor.) Schwarz was fired days after Wowereit left the board of oversight. He sued for wrongful termination, and in late 2014 a Berlin court ordered the airport owners to pay Schwarz €1.14 million in damages for his dismissal, saying the board of oversight shared responsibility for the fiasco. In an e-mail to Bloomberg Businessweek, Schwarz said he felt vindicated by the court’s decision, concluding, “There is nothing to add.”

In the two years since Schwarz and Wowereit’s dual exit, the owners of the airport have reshuffled the board of oversight and burned through another management team. Schwarz’s successor, a short, stocky official named Hartmut Mehdorn, 72, is a close friend of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. While head of Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway, Mehdorn supervised the construction of Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, the central train station, in a contentious collaboration with von Gerkan. Hauptbahnhof is considered a German triumph: “If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City,” Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times in 2008, “they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.”

Mehdorn came into the Berlin Brandenburg job determined to turn it around. “He is a whirlwind,” says Axel Vogel of the Green Party. After a year of paralysis on the building site, one of Mehdorn’s early moves was to turn on the fountain in front of the deserted terminal to signal that he would get things done. But almost as a mocking counterpoint, the lights in the terminal couldn’t be turned off because of a computer glitch no one could fix, and the electricity bill soared.

Mehdorn squabbled with his engineering chief and antagonized the board of oversight with his ill-conceived schemes to get the airport up and running. At one point he proposed opening just the northern pier. A terrible idea, says Delius: “It was never meant to be opened separately from the rest of the terminal. There were no luggage carousels, no check-in counters, and the only way to reach it would have been to walk across the runway.”

By December 2014 relations between Mehdorn and the board had gotten so bad that the board considered hiring a headhunter to find his replacement, according to Delius and others. Hearing about the plan, Mehdorn quit. After his exit, nobody wanted the job. Mehdorn could not be reached for comment.

In February 2015 the board managed to lure Karsten Mühlenfeld, the well-regarded 51-year-old former chief of engineering at Rolls-Royce Germany. It also hired a former Siemens manager as his technical director. One of the first moves the two made was to yank out and reinstall the miles of cables. Then they turned to the fire prevention system. Smoke now channels upward through chimneys, in accordance with the laws of physics.

The board says construction should be completed by the middle of 2016, to be followed by fresh rounds of testing by ORAT crews. If all goes according to plan, says Mühlenfeld, the airport should begin operations in 2017. Berliners are trying to remain patient as tourism is booming and growth is limited by a lack of flights. “The number of defects that they’ve found has grown to 150,000, including 85,000 serious ones,” says Vogel.

On a Saturday afternoon in July, I board a bus in the Schönefeld parking lot for a two-hour public tour of the deserted airport. The tour leader seems almost to revel in the airport’s cursed history. The project had been a disaster, he says. Still, the terminal building is impressive. We enter the giant structure and walk across floors of light-gray tile, past check-in counters made of artificial walnut. The infamous second level looms above, filled with restaurants and duty-free shops, all done in the same tasteful faux wood. Twin pairs of stainless-steel chimneys rise out of the ceiling. An express train rumbles into the station directly beneath the terminal. Eventually, four trains an hour will whisk passengers to and from central Berlin in 20 minutes. The terminal has a light, spacious feeling, with panoramic sightlines reminiscent of the aesthetics at Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

“You have to say that it is a really cool airport,” Delius says. “The architecture is good. The concept is good. It is very easygoing, easy to navigate. It should please a lot of people—if it ever gets finished.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

These Superhumans Are Real and Their DNA Could Be Worth Billions (BusinessWeek)

Drug companies are exploiting rare mutations that make one person nearly immune to pain, another to broken bones

Steven Pete can put his hand on a hot stove or step on a piece of glass and not feel a thing, all because of a quirk in his genes. Only a few dozen people in the world share Pete’s congenital insensitivity to pain. Drug companies see riches in his rare mutation. They also have their eye on people like Timothy Dreyer, 25, who has bones so dense he could walk away from accidents that would leave others with broken limbs. About 100 people have sclerosteosis, Dreyer’s condition.

Both men’s apparent superpowers come from exceedingly uncommon deviations in their DNA. They are genetic outliers, coveted by drug companies Amgen, Genentech, and others in search of drugs for some of the industry’s biggest, most lucrative markets.


Their genes also have caused the two men enormous suffering. Pete’s parents first realized something was wrong when, as a teething baby, their son almost chewed off his tongue. “That was a giant red flag,” says Pete, now 34 and living in Kelso, Wash. It took doctors months to figure out he had congenital insensitivity to pain, caused by two different mutations, one inherited from each parent. On their own, the single mutations were benign; combined, they were harmful.

Dreyer, who lives in Johannesburg, was 21 months old when his parents noticed a sudden facial paralysis. Doctors first diagnosed him with palsy. Then X-rays revealed excessive bone formation in his skull, which led to a diagnosis of sclerosteosis. Nobody in Dreyer’s family had the disorder; his parents both carried a single mutation, which Dreyer inherited.

Dreyer and Pete are “a gift from nature,” says Andreas Grauer, global development lead for the osteoporosis drug Amgen is creating. “It is our obligation to turn it into something useful.”

What’s good for patients is also good for business. The painkiller market alone is worth $18 billion a year. The industry is pressing ahead with research into genetic irregularities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a cholesterol-lowering treatment on July 24 from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals based on the rare gene mutation of an aerobics instructor with astoundingly low cholesterol levels. Amgen has a similar cholesterol drug, based on the same discovery, and expects U.S. approval in August. The drugs can lower cholesterol when statins alone don’t work. They are expected to cost up to $12,000 per patient per year and bring in more than $1 billion annually.

“Before a lot of us participated in these projects, very little about pain itself was known”

Drugmakers are also investing in acquisitions and partnerships to get their hands on genetic information that could lead to more drugs. Amgen bought an Icelandic biotechnology company, DeCode Genetics, for $415 million in 2012, to acquire its massive database on more than half of Iceland’s adult population. Genentech is collaborating with Silicon Valley startup 23andMe, which has sold its $99 DNA spit kits to 1 million consumers who want to find out more about their health and family history—more than 80 percent have agreed to have their data used for research. The Genentech partnership will study the genetic underpinnings of Parkinson’s disease. And Regeneron has signed a deal with Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System to sequence the genes of more than 100,000 volunteers.

Underlying this is the plummeting cost of gene sequencing. It took $3 billion and 13 years, from 1990 to 2003, to sequence the first human genome. The cost today is as low as $1,000 a patient, making it viable to sequence large numbers of people and discover relationships between genes and symptoms.

The researchers who study outliers are often the first to realize the potential power behind a mutation. In 2010, Socrates Papapoulos, a professor of medicine at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, visited an isolated Dutch community where much of the population had overgrown skulls and abnormally large bones. At a town meeting, he asked if anyone had been in a major car accident. One man raised his hand. “He said, ‘I was crossing the street with my brother, and a Mercedes was coming, and I didn’t have time to move,’ ” Papapoulos says. “And I said, ‘What happened?’ and he said, ‘You should have seen the Mercedes.’ ”

Amgen realized that if researchers could mimic the effects of the genetic mutation, they could encourage bone growth strong enough to counter osteoporosis. People with sclerosteosis lack a protein that acts as a brake on bone growth. Without that protein, bones grow abnormally thick. It stood to reason, researchers thought, that a drug that could block the protein in patients with osteoporosis would encourage bone regrowth.

Amgen’s scientists created hundreds of antibodies that they tested to determine which might be able to get in the way of the protein. It took them three and a half years of research before they were able to identify the best antibody to inhibit the protein. Then NASA came calling.

In 2010 the space agency, preparing for its final space shuttle mission, was looking for promising research projects. It invited Amgen to test the drug’s ability to stop the loss of bone mass often seen during spaceflight. Amgen sent 30 mice on the Atlantis shuttle. Half got the drug, romosozumab. After 13 days, the injected mice had gained bone mineral density as the control group’s bones weakened.

Amgen has run two human trials since 2006. It is conducting two final-stage trials, with the first batch of results expected in early 2016. If the drug works as well as promised, it could bring Amgen $1 billion to $2 billion in sales per year, says Cowen Group analyst Eric Schmidt.

Unlike sclerosteosis patients, people such as Pete who don’t feel pain have no outward physical features that give them away. Instead, researchers have stumbled upon them more or less by chance. A research article on families in Pakistan came after the discovery of a 10-year-old boy who as a street performer stabbed himself with knives and walked on burning coals.

Xenon Pharmaceuticals, a small Canadian biotech, started studying more than a decade ago families who showed similar pain-free traits and tracked down the gene responsible, which regulates a pathway in the body called the Nav 1.7 sodium ion channel. With just a few dozen employees, Xenon turned for development help to Genentech, which is owned by Roche, and its 1,200 research and development scientists.

“The beauty of the phenotype is that you’re largely normal,” says Morgan Sheng, Genentech’s vice president for neuroscience, referring to how the genes are manifested in an individual. “You want to just prevent pain and not cause a bunch of other problems,” he says. The only other effect typically seen is a loss of the sense of smell.

The promise of the Nav 1.7 channel is to create an entirely new class of painkiller. Options on the market are all problematic. Opioids, such as morphine, are addictive, while nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, are ineffective with severe pain and can cause gastrointestinal side effects including bleeding. Genentech is still in the earliest stage of clinical trials, and it could take more than five years before a drug is released.

While outliers may hold the secret to curing the ills of the rest of humanity, there is no profit motive to find treatments for their aberrant sufferings. The market is too small, even though their suffering is real. Pete’s left leg is permanently damaged from years of injuries he couldn’t feel, and he lives with the anxiety that he could overlook a severe illness, such as appendicitis, whose major symptom is pain. He regularly participates in research studies and says he wants to contribute to scientists’ knowledge to help them develop better painkillers. “Before a lot of us participated in these projects, very little about pain itself was known,” he says.

Excessive bone growth in Dreyer’s skull has led to multiple operations to relieve pressure on cranial nerves and the brain, though ultimately the surgeries were unable to prevent hearing loss.

Dreyer, a Ph.D. student in paraclinical science at the University of Pretoria, isn’t waiting for Big Pharma to come to his rescue. For his Ph.D. project, he’s researching treatments for his own disease and hopes to raise 2 million rand ($162,000) to fund his work. “There are thousands of people suffering from osteoporosis, so developing a treatment for them is great,” he says. “That being said, I do think it would be nice if they could help us out now that they understand our disease and are able to use it for their treatments.”

The bottom line: Genentech and Amgen are studying rare gene mutations to create blockbuster drugs for pain and osteoporosis.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mission to Panama (Sepember 25th, 2015)

A great Agenda in Panama, like:

Sunday, September 27, 2015
6:00 pm Welcome Cocktail Reception (informal)
Monday, September 28, 2015
8:00-9:00 am U.S. Commercial Service Breakfast
9:00-9:15 am Registration
9:15-9:30 pm Greetings & Introductions by Master of Ceremony
MC: Luis Cuervo, Executive Director, Hemispheric Congress of Latin Chambers of Commerce & Industry

Welcome Remarks
Mr. Carlos Fernandez, President, Panama Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agricultural
President of CAMACOL and Chairman of the Hemispheric Congress

Plenary Sessions:

1a. Tourism: Currently, perspectives and challenges Hemispheric
Invited Panelists:
Mr. Juan Miguel Moreno
Mrs. Magda de la Torre
Mr. Carlos Tait
Mr. Gustavo Him, Minister of Tourism of Panama
Mr. Jaime Campuzano, President of the Chamber of Tourism of Panama

10:30-11:10 am 2a. How to Conduct Business in the United States

2b. How to Conduct Business in Panama
In this intervention there will be an actualization on the Free Trade Agreements/Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific
Invited Panelists:
Mr. Manuel Ferreira, Director of Economic Affairs of the Chamber of Commerce of Panama
Mr. Manuel "Manny" Mencia, SVP, International Trade Development

11:10-11:35 pm Miami Media and Film Market (MMFM)
Business and Incentives from Movies and Videos industry in the U.S. and Panama
How the film industry can work for you
Invited Panelists:
Mr. Pieter A. Bockweg, Executive Director, OMNI & Midtown Community Redevelopment Agencies, (CRA)

Page - 2 11:35 - 1:00 pm "Sea Ports" Pilars of the International Commerce Arena
Panama Port Authority and Port of Miami Presentation
Invited Panelists:
Mr. Juan Kuryla, Director, PortMiami
Port of Manzanillo
Mr. Vikash Deepak, President of the Maritime Chamber of Panama

1:00-3:00 pm Lunch:
Invited Speakers:
Mr. Manuel "Manny" Mencia, SVP International Trade Development
Mrs. Diana Salazar, Vice-Minister of International Trade. Negotiations, Ministry of Commerce and Industry

3:00-6:00 pm Matchmaking meetings
Institutional and Commercial Visits

3:00 - 4:00 pm Conversatarios:
Mr. José I. Blandón, mayor of the city of Panama 

4:00 - 5:00 pm Mr. Meliton Arrocha, Minister of Commerce and Industry

7:00-10:00 pm Presentation Visit and Cocktail Reception in Panama Canal

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

9:00-11:30 am Permanent Secretariat Meeting

11:30-12:00 pm Press Conference

1:00-2:30 pm Lunch

3:00-5:00 pm Institutional and Commercial Visits and Tourist Trips

9:00-5:00 pm Matchmaking meetings

7:00-10:00 pm Closing Banquet, Issuing of the Sanchez-to-Sanchez-to-Smith Award.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Tourist visit trips (optional) and return to Miami, Florida 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

UCLA Health hit by hack; medical data on 4.5 million people exposed

The LA-based university health system says the data stolen was not encrypted.

University of California (UCLA) Health has been hit by a cyberattack that exposed the data of about 4.5 million people in the region.

The organization said Friday that a network containing personal and medical information was accessed by unknown hackers, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers and medical data -- such as condition, medications, procedures, and test results.

However, the organization said there was "no evidence" data was taken, though it "cannot conclusively rule out that possibility."

The health system, which runs four hospitals in the Los Angeles, Calif. area, said it is working with the FBI and a third-party forensics unit to determine the cause of the breach, which happened October last year. The breach was discovered on May 5.

It's not known at this stage who is behind the attack. James Atkinson, interim associate vice chancellor and president of the UCLA Hospital System, told the LA Times that it was "a highly sophisticated group likely to be offshore."

Crucially, UCLA Health confirmed the data was not encrypted, the report said, meaning the data -- if accessed or stolen -- could be used to steal the identities or other personal information of those affected.

Individuals whose information was stored on the affected parts of the network are in the process of being notified.

This is the latest attack in a long list of health systems, hospitals, and insurance companies that have suffered at the hands of hackers in recent months, including Anthem and Premera Blue Cross, which have between them affected tens of millions of Americans.

The attack on Anthem saw about 80 million subscribers' records exposed, discovered in early February, along with data on about 19 million non-subscribers.

China was initially blamed for the attack, which the FBI previously said was looking at a state-sponsored actor. China maintained that it does not attack US companies.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Argentina Consistently, and Unapologetically, Refuses to Pay Its Debts (BusinessWeek)

A visitor at the Museum of Foreign Debt in Buenos Aires. To the right is an image of former president Carlos Menem, whose efforts to control inflation produced a heavy debt load for the country.

Argentina’s fight with foreign banks and bondholders is more than just business. It’s part of the national psyche, enshrined in a special museum at the business school at the University of Buenos Aires. The Museum of Foreign Debt is nothing fancy. There are a few flimsy panels plastered with grainy photos, dates, text, and graphs.

Oh, but the saga portrayed on those panels! Banks, bond investors, and the International Monetary Fund flood crooked regimes with overpriced credit. The Argentine economy collapses, and the people suffer. International markets are roiled. It happens time and time again. The story has all the emotions of a good tango.

Argentina has reneged on foreign debt obligations at least seven times, starting in 1827. The latest was in July 2014, when Argentina defaulted rather than give in to pressure from Paul Singer of Elliott Management. The fight with Singer has been going on for a dozen years, and the term vulture investor—rather esoteric in much of the world—is now pretty much universally known in Argentina. It’s so much on people’s minds that Buenos Aires toy stores carry a homegrown board game called Vultures, packaged in a box depicting a pair of the birds picking at a pile of dollars. “We planted the anti-vulture flag in the world,” President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said in a speech in mid-May. “We gave a name to international usury and despotism.”

One May morning at the debt museum, guide Antonella Fagnano, a 21-year-old business major, describes Argentines’ attitude toward default. She pauses by a black-and-white photo of the late General Jorge Videla, who led a 1976 coup that ushered in a seven-year dictatorship. Successive presidents in that period loaded up on foreign debt to finance, among other things, the 1982 Falklands War with the U.K.

Today’s Argentina, Fagnano says, has no moral obligation to make good on debts like those. In fact, it would be wrong to pay. “Foreigners financed a lot of leaders, like these dictators. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do with the money, and left future generations the debt,” she says, shaking her head. “So, of course, you cannot allow that.”

Fernandez is nearing the end of her term, and it doesn't look like things will change under the next president. Daniel Scioli, the front-runner for October elections, vows to carry on the fight against paying the vultures in full. 

Left to right, top to bottom: wikimedia commons; wikimedia commons; Everett Collection Historical/Alamy; OFF/AFP/Getty Images; Kucharz/ullstein bild via Getty Images; AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano; Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; DYN/Getty Images; Sergey Bobylev/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images; Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg; Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images; AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano; Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Monday, July 13, 2015

EN MI OPINION:Importancia de la buena ubicación ( Ricardo Tribín Acosta)

En ocasiones, las cuales a ratos son más frecuentes que en otros casos, nos arrepentimos obsesivamente de los errores cometidos en el pasado, y en forma similar mantenemos ideas fijas en nuestras mentes de lo que nos va a suceder en el futuro lo cual, en ninguna de las dos situaciones mostradas, ayuda mucho que digamos al mantenimiento de la agradable serenidad que anhelamos.
Sin embargo, si nos enfocamos en el momento presente, las cosas cambian como por arte de magia o mejor como consecuencia de mantener limpia a nuestra imaginación, dejándola sin proyectar emocionalmente lo que nos pueda acontecer en un futuro o, sin castigarnos , ni darnos látigo, por las equivocaciones de ese antes que ya paso.
El pasado es un cheque cancelado sin que ello implique que pongamos aparte las enseñanzas de lo bueno y de lo malo que podamos extractar de él y el futuro es algo incierto que ni siquiera sepamos si a este vamos a llegar. De ahí que, si nos ubicamos en el hoy, estaremos sembrando fértiles semillas de alegría, abundancia, compasión y amor, que nos pondrán al alcance una mejor calidad de vida.
Miami, Julio 2 de 2015

EN MI OPINION:La bastilla “bara” la tos (Ricardo Tribín Acosta)

Hace ya un buen número de años, cuando a comienzos del siglo pasado apenas llegaba a su fin la dinastía del imperio Otomano, en razón a que esta cubría a todo lo que se llamó luego la República Árabe Unida, era común denominar a los originarios de esa región del mundo con el nombre genérico de “Turcos”, lo cual se destacaba aún más en aquellos casos en los que, a quienes se refería, habían nacido allí, y estaban como inmigrantes en países de habla hispana, y por tanto su español tenía un acento muy pronunciado de su idioma de origen.
Recuerdo cuando un caballero de tal procedencia en una ciudad colombiana acudió a una droguería y dijo “quiero una bastilla bara la tos”, a lo cual el farmaceuta le respondió “La quiere para aquí o bara allá”. Eran chistes al mejor estilo “calambour”, con humor fino que no ofendía a quien se dirigía. Precisamente en un pueblo cercano, a la señora del burgomaestre se le ocurrió actuar como cantante en un festival para obras benéficas y este, muy contento, decidió mandar a hacer un afiche que decía “Esta noche debuta la señora del alcalde”. Entonces un “turquito” que lo leyó y estaba un poco pasado de copas empezó a decir “ Debuta?, debuta?, pero sí de “buta” ha estado gran parte de su vida”.
Las anteriores son anécdotas de épocas muy simpáticas, las que es bueno recordar, pues llenaban de humor a  las gentes en tiempos en los que la paz era algo común y privilegio para todas las personas que vivían en las veredas, campos, pueblos y ciudades. Qué lindo es traerlas a la memoria en momentos en los que clamamos por el fin de la intolerancia y el regreso a la cordialidad, el respeto, y la concordia.

Miami, Julio 9 de 2015