Gecko floods people with phone calls at Hawaii animal hospital



HAWAII (KHON2) – Something mysterious happened at a monk seal hospital in Hawaii this week, leaving many people confused.

Dr. Claire Simeone of Ke Kai Ola Marine Mammal Center in Kailua-Kona was on her lunch break when she started getting inundated with calls from work. 

“I picked [my phone] up and it was silence, but it was coming from our hospital Ke Kai Ola,” Dr. Simeone said. 

Worried it was a monk seal emergency, she rushed back to work. 

“When I got there, everyone was relaxed and I said, ‘Why have you been calling me so much?’ and they said ‘We haven’t been calling you,” she said. 

She says people began calling the hospital asking why the hospital kept calling them. 

“I called Hawaiian Telcom and talked to them, they said maybe it’s a problem from one of the phones, something shorting out and they’re all coming from this line but they didn’t know which one,” she said. 

Dr. Simeone said it wasn’t coming from the office or the main hospital room, so she went to check the laboratory.

“And I saw there was a gecko on the touch screen making calls,” she said laughing. 

She tells us the gecko was in the middle of a phone call when she walked in.

“He called everyone on our recent calls list,” she added. 

As for catching the culprit?

“He was super fast, but he was able to be located and he’s on a plant outside,” she said. 

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Eagerly Awaiting Your Social Security COLA? Here’s Something Better to Do Instead

Millions of seniors rely heavily on Social Security to pay the bills in retirement, so much so that their benefits inevitably come to constitute the bulk of their income — even though they were never designed to do so. As such, those who collect benefits tend to bank heavily on the program’s cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs.

COLAs were introduced in the mid-1970s, and their purpose is to help seniors retain their buying power in the face of inflation. And next week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is scheduled to release the inflation data it collected from September, which will, in turn, come to dictate how 2019’s COLA shakes out.

Senior couple looking at documents while man uses calculator

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Thankfully, the news on the COLA front is already fairly positive. At its current 2.5% to 3% projection, next year’s COLA could come to constitute one of the largest boosts seniors have seen in years. And next week’s news could prove quite substantial in officially sealing the deal.

Still, sitting around eagerly anticipating your COLA is hardly a good use of your time as a Social Security beneficiary. You’re better off sinking some energy into rethinking your spending and making smart choices that have a greater impact on your finances than a 2.5% to 3% benefits increase will.

Making the most of your retirement income

At first glance, a 2.5% to 3% raise in your Social Security benefits might seem like something to celebrate. But for the average recipient, that translates into just $35 to $42 extra a month, which is hardly a life-changing sum. Of course, it’s better than nothing, but if your finances are such that you’re truly counting on next year’s increase, you may want to re-examine your spending habits instead — because chances are, you have plenty of options for freeing up well more than $35 to $42 a month.

For one thing, take a look at your biggest monthly expenses — most likely housing and healthcare. While you probably have fewer options for changing the latter, you can certainly reduce the former by downsizing to a smaller living space or relocating to a less expensive part of the country — one with lower property taxes or more affordable rent. Either move could save you well over $100 a month, which is far more than the raise most seniors are looking at from Social Security.

Furthermore, while you can’t skimp on medical care when you need it, there are numerous steps you can take to lower your healthcare costs in retirement, from choosing the right drug plan to being smart about how you fill and renew prescriptions to taking advantage of the free preventive health services offered by Medicare.

There are other changes you can make, too, like cutting back on cable, cooking at home to avoid the ridiculous markup most restaurants charge, and unloading a household vehicle if you only use it sparingly (believe it or not, you’ll probably come out ahead financially by taking public transportation or using rideshare services, since owning a car costs roughly $8,700 a year, on average).

Also, don’t discount the value of getting a part-time job in retirement. Though it may not be the ideal way to spend your time, it’s a good way to drum up extra cash without having to go too crazy cutting back on expenses. And if you’re the entrepreneurial type, there’s always the option to start your own business or turn a pastime you enjoy into a money-making venture.

Though a 2.5% to 3% Social Security COLA, or whatever it ends up being, is far better than no COLA at all, it won’t necessarily have the lifestyle impact you expect it to. So rather than get hung up on that COLA, take steps to improve your finances yourself, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having a little more breathing room.

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XRP Price Looks Ready to Drop Another 20 Percent: Ripple Shorts Get Ready

For those that have been following the price articles that have been put out in recent times, the recent downturn in price is something that was anticipated a few days ago:

https://www.tradingview.com/chart/XRPUSD/2nwG1KT3-XRP-Beginning-to-Look-Very-Bearish-in-the-Mid-Term/

Currently, the price of $XRP is down -10% for this period (on the daily), which is a pretty steep decline.

So, what’s going on? We’ll review below.

$XRP Ripple Price Analysis

For this price analysis, we’re going to look at the USD side of things on the trade.

Let’s start with the H2 (2 hour) chart:

In the picture above, we can see what appears to be a ‘traded range’ that has developed on the H2 chart resolution for XRP.

What does this mean?

In short, a traded range is a resistance and support point that the price trades back and forth between until it either breaks above or below the traded range.

Below is an example:

Source: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/tradingrange.asp

Thus, according to modern trading theory, we should be expecting the price of Ripple to make a quick stop at approximately 44 cents (not an exact, just an estimate).

However, the momentum for the price of $XRP makes it appear as though the price may decline even further than that.

RSI(14) Reading for $XRP Ripple

For the RSI here, we’re going to look at the daily chart resolution rather than ther H2, so that we can get a better idea of how the price may behave over the next few days:

 

In the picture above, we can see that the RSI(14) has corrected itself sharply from the overbought region that it was in previously.

However, this does not mean that there is any guarantee there will be a consolidation period lingering in the woods for $XRP at any point in the near future.

In fact, on the contrary, the RSI(14) appears to indicate that there could be a much more precipitous decline on the way as the acceleration of its decline shows heavy downward price movement, and price action is something that tends to stop gradually.

For instance, while Ripple was increasing in price, we could see that it was making major gains (below we switched to the H4 for the convenience of seeing this a bit easier):

From this, we can see a similar principle in the price going down as well:

If the candles are elongated and the momentum appears to be in ‘full swing’, then that is a terrible point to assume an immediate pivot unless there is some sort of astronomical news event that would cause such a thing (i.e., USA announces they are replacing the Swift network with Ripple’s token instead).

The picture above is self-explanatory due to the caption.

Now, let’s recap on that support point.

Support Points for $XRP Ripple

However, as stated above, we’re expecting an eventual break below this point. So, let’s see what the next likely support points will be.

The golden line in the picture above is the EMA-50 (Exponential Moving Average), which is lingering right at the support line that we originally drew for $XRP based on the prior price movement.

This should signal to us that this support point is likely a major one, thus representing a point of support that could slow the price down once it hits. There may even be a tiny bounce from that point.

However, traders should beware because such a point could be a mere alleviation of the price action downward by bears before they consolidate profits and place larger short bets on the currency once again.

Below the point of 43–45 cents, traders should anticipate the 35–37 cent range as the next likely point of support for the price.

Ripple’s overall trajectory looks bearish, that’s the only way to describe it.

Thus, we’re going to go ahead and look at solutions that allow us to short the price of Ripple.

Below is the R/R that we anticipate for Ripple. Trade completion is at 36 cents.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is financial advice and the author is not invested in either Ripple or any cryptocurrency/Ripple competitor.

[Whoa] Ripple’s Blockchain Ledger Sees 150 Million XRP Coins Move in New Mega-Transaction

Binance Ratings Calls Ripple (XRP Coin) the Best Performing Digital Asset This Month

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Voss Pumpkin Patch draws customers keeping in touch with fall tradition

This year, they opened the pumpkin patch Sept. 22, and will continue to sell pumpkins, squash and gourds to customers through Halloween, said Becky Cote. “Or, for as long as we have pumpkins.”

Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Every year when autumn rolls around, Cote — one of five children of Luke and the late Joyce Lutovsky — takes a couple of weeks off from her full-time job in Fargo to lead the project that’s been going on for eight years.

“Last year, we didn’t even have frost,” she said. “This year we’ve had to battle snow.”

But the family has taken extra steps to protect the pumpkins from frost, even as they continue to take them out of the field.

“We tell people they’re very fresh,” Cote said.

The work of many “siblings, spouses, nieces and nephews” brings the pumpkin patch to fruition, she said. “We plant the seeds, weed and harvest by hand.”

They begin harvesting pumpkins in mid-September on five acres of land donated by Cote’s sister and brother-in-law, Dawn and John Miller Jr., of Minto, N.D.

Cote’s brother, Darren Lutovsky, of Port Orchard, Wash., returns every fall for a couple weeks to pitch in and sister-in-law, Peggy Lutovsky, Scott Lutovsky’s wife, also “is a big help,” Cote said.

They sell a variety of pumpkins, including “Jarrahdales,” a blue-green variety from Australia, Cote said. “They’ve become popular in the last few years.”

Large flat “Cinderellas” and “warty” pumpkins and “Turk’s Turbans” squash are also good-sellers.

“The largest (pumpkin) we ever had was 103 pounds,” said Scott Lutovsky.

Too many pumpkins

Cote decided to start the Voss Pumpkin Patch in 2011, picking up the reins from a neighbor and relative, Ray Lutovsky, who had been growing pumpkins for family and friends, as a hobby. There were so many pumpkins, she decided to offer them to the public so they wouldn’t go to waste, she said.

A sign at the patch lists “suggested prices,” ranging from 50 cents to $5. If unattended, customers are “on their honor” to leave payment in a locked box, Cote said.

The Lutovsky family uses the proceeds from the sale of pumpkins to fund worthy causes in the area, which, in the past, included improvements to a baseball field in Minto.

They will do the same this year, but haven’t determined yet which causes to support.

Repeat customers

Every fall, customers from Park River, Grafton and Minto, N.D., flock to the pumpkin patch, Scott Lutovsky said. “Quite a few are repeat customers.”

“A guy from Edmore (N.D.) comes every year,” Cote said. “And there’s a guy from Fargo who comes and gets pumpkins to decorate his home on (historic) Eighth Street there.”

On Saturday, Lindsay Jelinek, of Pisek, N.D., and Jill Hell, Park River, brought their children and a few nieces to pick pumpkins.

“We’ve come every year for the past five years,” Jelinek said. “The kids like to carve pumpkins, so they each get one big one to carve and some pumpkins to decorate with.”

Every year, Cote said she and her siblings question whether they’ll offer the pumpkin patch again, because “we’re getting older” and it requires a lot of physical labor, she said.

“And then we hear someone say, ‘Oh, we’re so glad you’re doing this.’ “

So the tradition continues.

“I love fall. I love where I grew up,” said Cote, looking around the yard filled with stacks of pumpkins. “I love coming home. This recharges my batteries.”

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Portland’s Only Cat Café Is Closing

About

Andi Prewitt writes about Oregon’s trifecta of fun: craft beer, food and the outdoors. She’s also chief editor of a statewide beer magazine, and enjoys learning about beer almost as much as she loves drinking it. When not educating the public about craft brew, she’s shaping future rhetoricians as a college public speaking instructor. A native Oregonian, Andi’s claim to fame was being named princess of Newberg and it’s all been downhill from there.

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Ford, an Automaker at a Crossroads, Seeks Cuts and Partners

DEARBORN, Mich. — When Ford Motor was celebrating the 100th anniversary of its Rouge industrial complex last week, its chairman, William C. Ford Jr., offered an optimistic outlook for the years ahead.

The company is still solidly profitable, he said, and while it is losing money overseas, it is working on a solution. Furthermore, he praised the ability and leadership of Ford’s chief executive, Jim Hackett, who he said was doing “a really good job.”

“I don’t think it’s even close to a crisis,” he said.

Not everyone shares his confidence.

The automaker’s bottom line is weakening despite record sales of its pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. In August, its credit rating was cut to one level above junk status. And Ford’s stock price has fallen to its lowest point since 2009, when the United States economy was in a deep recession.

“The foundation of Ford — the trucks — is still healthy, but there are concerns about whether Ford has prepared for tomorrow and the future,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of the auto information providers Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. “Ford hasn’t been effective enough in convincing investors that they are.”

In the latest move to cut costs, Ford is reorganizing its worldwide salaried work force of 70,000 with the goal of having a leaner staff by the second quarter of 2019. The move, outlined to employees on Thursday, is likely to eliminate several thousand jobs, said Karen Hampton, a company spokeswoman.

“We believe there will be reductions as part of it, but we don’t have specific targets,” Ms. Hampton said. She said the reorganization was meant to speed decision-making and cut the time it takes to develop new vehicles, two points that Mr. Hackett has emphasized.

The effort was first reported by The Detroit Free Press.

Part of the frustration among those sizing up the company stems from Mr. Hackett’s slow rollout of a recovery plan. Since taking the helm in May 2017, Mr. Hackett has outlined broad cost-reduction goals, but has stopped short of explaining how they will be achieved. Ford once planned a daylong meeting with Wall Street analysts on Sept. 25, but canceled it in July, saying it needed more time.

Elements of the plan are emerging bit by bit. Beyond the reduction in the salaried work force, another initiative involves partnerships.

Ford is in talks with Volkswagen about a broad alliance that could help turn around its ailing operations in Europe and South America. It is also discussing ways to expand cooperation with Mahindra, the Indian automaker. India is another market where Ford is struggling.

Mr. Ford, a great-grandson of the company’s founder, Henry Ford, acknowledged the discussions at the Rouge complex, now the site of a plant that produces the F-150 pickup.

“We don’t ever rely on a partner to fix things for us,” he said. “We have to get our own house in order first. Partnerships can help with capital intensity and things like that.”

Analysts said a partnership with Volkswagen could help both companies. Ford makes money on delivery vans and other small trucks, an area where Volkswagen struggles. The cooperation could involve helping Volkswagen produce small pickups like the Ford Ranger and sharing the cost of developing electric vehicles and other technologies to meet more stringent emissions regulations in Europe.

“Volkswagen is definitely intriguing,” said Brian Johnson of Barclays Capital. “You can definitely see the business logic behind it.”

A century ago, Ford revolutionized auto manufacturing when it opened the Rouge complex. A marvel in its time, it produced cars and all their parts, including glass, tires and engines. It generated its own electricity, had a hospital and police station and employed as many as 100,000 workers. This vertical integration helped Ford lower costs enough to produce cars that ordinary people could afford.

Today, Ford must again find ways to cut costs. In July, Mr. Hackett said his restructuring plan could involve charges of $11 billion over the next three to five years. That news arrived as Ford reported net income declined by nearly half to $1.1 billion in the second quarter.

The urgency was highlighted last week when Mr. Hackett said on Bloomberg television that the Trump administration’s tariffs on imported aluminum and steel would raise Ford’s costs by $1 billion. The company said the costs would be incurred in 2018 and 2019.

The tariffs could erode the profit margins of the F-150, which has aluminum body panels. But Mr. Ford said the automaker had taken the tariffs into account and did not need to modify its turnaround plan.

“We just want to work with the administration on trade issues, tariff issues, and they’ve been quite good about it,” he said. But Ford “runs a lot better when we have certainty and we don’t have big gyrations,” he added. “Our business is at its best when we have certainty with tax regimes, trade regimes.”

Another trade move by the administration was welcomed by Ford — the agreement that keeps Canada in a three-nation trade zone in North America. Ford makes trucks and sport utility vehicles in Ontario.

Just two years ago, Ford seemed like the healthiest of the three Detroit automakers. But while it makes a solid profit on trucks and S.U.V.s like the Explorer, recent earnings reports have shown it losing money on its cars. At the same time, profit has plunged in Europe and Asia, efforts to turn around its South American business have shown little progress, and returns in North America, by far Ford’s largest region, have slumped.

“The problem is they didn’t update and redesign their products enough,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader. “It comes back to being slow on product decisions and product development.”

Now Ford’s lineup faces a radical revamping. In April, the company said it would stop making sedans for the United States market to shore up profits. Within a year or two, familiar models like the Fusion, Focus, Fiesta and Taurus will disappear from showrooms. In their place, Ford is planning new S.U.V.s, truck variants and electric vehicles.

Mr. Hackett has talked about how Ford will make decisions and develop vehicles faster — or increase the company’s “clock speed,” as he terms it. Ford announced in June that it had purchased Detroit’s crumbling train station and intended to make it the base of some 2,000 employees working on businesses related to self-driving cars — an effort Mr. Hackett was running when he was called on to replace Mark Fields as chief executive.

But his reluctance to spell out the elements of his restructuring plan has rankled analysts who follow the company and try to predict how much money it will make.

Mr. Hackett was hailed for his previous tenure as chief executive — at the office-furniture company Steelcase — but he is facing a tougher challenge in running Ford, a much larger company with 200,000 employees and dozens of plants around the world.

“We’d like him to be crisper in going from high-level statements into the actionable plans they are going to carry out,” Mr. Johnson of Barclays Capital said.

The tension was evident in a July conference call when Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley expressed frustration at the lack of detail on what the $11 billion in charges will cover. He asked Mr. Hackett if he would still be around when it came time to assess the results.

“I think there should be zero question about that,” Mr. Hackett replied.

In the meantime, plenty of questions remain.

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Amazon’s $15 minimum wage doesn’t end debate over whether it’s creating good jobs



An employee of Amazon Prime Now at a distribution hub in New York in December 2016. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

— Almost no workers clapped this week at the all-hands meeting after lunch at this Amazon fulfillment center outside Nashville when a plant manager announced that the company’s minimum wage was climbing to $15 an hour. 

 Instead of celebrating, many workers put their hands up to ask questions and express deep frustration, according to five employees at the facility. They asked why people who had been toiling in the company’s warehouse for years would now be paid similarly to new employees and temporary holiday help, according to the workers. 

“People seemed really bummed out because now [seasonal] workers are making $15 an hour,” said Chip Litchfield, who is thrilled that his pay will jump from $11.50 an hour in a program called Amazon CamperForce, which brings people who live in RVs to work in certain fulfillment centers during the holiday season. “We’re just a bunch of old people who they bring in a few months a year.”

Amazon’s decision to raise its minimum wage received widespread praise as a victory for workers and a model for other big U.S. corporations, even drawing plaudits from people as varied as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had previously railed against the company’s treatment of workers, and Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s top economic adviser. 

But within 24 hours, questions started to surface about how generous the move really is. Amazon also announced that it would cut bonuses and stock grants, and some veteran employees say they are being devalued and fear they might end up with less money than they get now.

It’s impossible to know how magnanimous Amazon’s action is — the company said it would incur an expense but did not say how big it would be. But the divided reaction among some of the 250,000 full-time employees and 100,000 seasonal staffers underscores one of the biggest tensions of Amazon’s massive growth. It’s likely that no company has hired more people in recent years than Amazon, which has opened fulfillment centers with breathtaking speed. 

Yet even as it seeks to maintain a satisfied workforce and fend off critics who say the company doesn’t treat employees well, Amazon must minimize costs and maximize the efficiency of its warehouses so it can continue to grow its formidable position in online commerce, delivering products in as little as an hour.

“Raising their minimum wage to $15 was the easy first step,” said Paul Sonn, state policy director of the National Employment Law Project. “Amazon is torn: They don’t want to be known as a bad employer, but they are an aggressive cost cutter.”

Today Amazon is America’s second-largest employer, and the bulk of its jobs are creations of the e-commerce era. Rather than engage in the type of extreme automation that many fear will lead to the destruction of jobs, the company has relied on a new kind of work — the “pickers” and “packers,” as they’re called, at vast warehouses who hunt down goods at warp speed, guided by a handheld computer, and box them for delivery.

The jobs are something between retail and traditional blue-collar factory work. And the pay reflects that.

Among all Amazon workers, the median pay is $28,446 a year ($13.68 an hour), a figure the company revealed this year for the first time because of a new regulatory requirement. That’s a worldwide figure that includes full and part-time workers. Glassdoor, an employment site, says average pay at U.S. fulfillment centers has been $13 an hour, according to nearly 900 people who submitted their data to the site.

Amazon’s pay is significantly above the $10.28 an hour that the typical retail worker makes, but it’s less than the $15.53 that a median warehouse employee is paid, according to Labor Department data.

Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, cast the decision to increase Amazon’s minimum wage to $15 as a bold move to “encourage our competitors and other large employers” to join him. But economists point out that Amazon is doing it at a time when nearly every company complains that it can’t recruit enough workers; the unemployment rate is the lowest since 1969.

Higher starting pay should help Amazon lure laborers to its doors, but it’s not as clear how veteran workers will fare and what will happen to retention.

“To me it seems like a publicity stunt on Bezos’s part. The big headline sounds nice, until you realize we are losing significant benefits,” said a full-time worker at Amazon’s Murfreesboro facility who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.

Amazon spokeswoman Ashley Robinson said in an email that all workers will see a “cash pay increase,” with employees who currently earn $14.01 or more receiving a dollar raise. She couldn’t guarantee that every worker would be better off, but she said that “our intent is certainly for employees to see an increase in compensation.”

Longtime employees say they should get a $3 raise so their pay is closer to $18 an hour, especially since Amazon is eliminating bonuses, which often added 8 percent a month to their earnings.

Jobs at Amazon’s warehouses can be grueling, physically and mentally. Nearly every one of the 18 past and present workers interviewed for this article said they take Advil after work or soak or rub their feet at night, and many said they refer to workers who have been there for a few months as “Amazombies” because they develop a zoned-out look from the monotonous labor.

“Our roles are more comparable to retail positions in the U.S.,” Robinson said. “We believe Amazon’s fulfillment center jobs are excellent jobs providing a great place to learn skills to start and further develop a career.”

The company has faced growing criticism over how it treats its workforce — from reports that some employees need food stamps to get by to articles on warehouse conditions. The company has generally pushed back, saying some criticisms are wrong and exaggerated, while also pledging to take steps to improve.

“As a company, Amazon is constantly creating new jobs and one of the reasons we are able to attract people to join us is that our number one priority is to ensure a positive and safe working environment,” Robinson said.

The key issue, said most workers who spoke for this article, is that Amazon sets quotas for how many items they have to pick, sort or pack each day, and it can be difficult to meet that requirement and still find time to hurry across the warehouse floor to the break room or bathroom during a 15-minute break.  

Amazon defends its quota system, saying that it is a standard practice and that there are support programs for people who are not meeting expected levels.

Most workers said that Amazon is upfront about what the job entails, and that the company’s pay and benefits are good for people without college degrees. Some workers have the same attitude about the minimum-wage hike. 

“It’s a win-lose for some people, but for others like me, who don’t really care that much about the stocks or getting bonuses, getting $15 an hour actually makes a big difference,” said a worker in California whose pay will soon rise from $13.15 to $15, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t want to get in trouble for talking to the media. 

In its statement announcing the increase, Amazon said it found that workers prefer predictable cash payments rather than stock grants or bonuses. All full-time Amazon employees had been eligible for stock grants.

Amazon has increasingly shaped the U.S. job market since it opened its first fulfillment center in 1997. But as employment at Amazon and other e-commerce sites skyrocketed in the 2000s and early 2010s, there was a noticeable decline in average warehouse worker pay at the national level, according to Labor Department data analyzed by accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton.

Average warehouse worker pay fell from $20.85 an hour in 2000 to under $16 in 2013 (both figures are adjusted for inflation and shown in current dollars). The trend has only recently started to reverse, with average warehouse pay hitting $17.50 this year.

“Warehousing and distribution were once higher-skilled jobs than they are today, so the pay has gone down even though the jobs require enormous amounts of effort,” said Diane Swonk, senior economist at Grant Thornton. “E-commerce companies don’t care about their turnover rates. They consider all workers to be interchangeable, much like Henry Ford did.”

Some of the questions about Amazon’s labor practices are rooted in the company’s efforts to be highly efficient with its workforce.

The company has come to rely on temporary workers and staffing agencies, says Marc Wulfraat, president of MWPVL International, a logistics consulting firm that tracks what Amazon does. The use of seasonal workers has long been a fact of life in retail, especially in the busy Christmas period, but Amazon has embraced it on a larger scale, he said.

“They are trying to keep costs down. That’s why they do it,” Wulfraat said, noting that Amazon’s warehouse capacity is likely to exceed Walmart’s for the first time this year. (Amazon says that more than half its seasonal workers in fulfillment centers are employed directly.)

A typical industrial or manufacturing warehouse employs one worker per 1,500 to 3,000 square feet of space, while an e-commerce operation needs one employee per 700 to 1,000 square feet, according to commercial real estate firm JLL.

Workers say items in Amazon’s warehouses are not sorted methodically, with, for instance, office supplies in one area and shoes in another. Instead, items are immediately put on whatever shelf is available when they arrive at the warehouse. Pickers rely on handheld monitors that tell them where to locate something, they say.

Here in Murfreesboro, home to one of Amazon’s 110 North American fulfillment centers, Integrity Staffing Solutions has been advertising temporary jobs at the center for $12.25 an hour, with no guarantee of ultimately being hired by Amazon. 

The pay is higher than the $8 starting wage for cashiers at the Dollar General just down the street, but it’s less than the $16 an hour advertised at Interstate Warehousing, a refrigeration facility across the road.



Inside an Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore in 2017. “Warehousing and distribution were once higher-skilled jobs than they are today, so the pay has gone down even though the jobs require enormous amounts of effort,” said Diane Swonk, senior economist at Grant Thornton (Patrick Semansky/AP)

In addition to traditional temp workers, in 2009, Amazon created a seasonal program known as CamperForce. These workers, often over 55, live full-time in RVs while laboring from September or October until Dec. 23 at certain fulfillment centers.

Many CamperForce participants say it’s a good deal for them because in a few months, they can earn enough to not have to work much the rest of the year.

Amazon also benefits, getting low-cost migrant workers willing to relocate wherever they’re needed.

CamperForce participants don’t get benefits, and their pay here has been lower than that of full-time workers, but the company does pick up the tab for campsite costs, including electricity.

“CamperForce benefits them, and it benefits us,” said Litchfield, a 59-year-old from Vermont, who’s doing the program for the second time with his girlfriend, Penni Brink. They think that with some overtime, they can earn close to $14,000 for their 14-week stint.

“I just hope they have us back next year,” he said.

Abha Bhattarai contributed to this report.

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Supply Chain Security is the Whole Enchilada, But Who’s Willing to Pay for It?

From time to time, there emerge cybersecurity stories of such potential impact that they have the effect of making all other security concerns seem minuscule and trifling by comparison. Yesterday was one of those times. Bloomberg Businessweek on Thursday published a bombshell investigation alleging that Chinese cyber spies had used a U.S.-based tech firm to secretly embed tiny computer chips into electronic devices purchased and used by almost 30 different companies. There aren’t any corroborating accounts of this scoop so far, but it is both fascinating and terrifying to look at why threats to the global technology supply chain can be so difficult to detect, verify and counter.

In the context of computer and Internet security, supply chain security refers to the challenge of validating that a given piece of electronics — and by extension the software that powers those computing parts — does not include any extraneous or fraudulent components beyond what was specified by the company that paid for the production of said item.

In a nutshell, the Bloomberg story claims that San Jose, Calif. based tech giant Supermicro was somehow caught up in a plan to quietly insert a rice-sized computer chip on the circuit boards that get put into a variety of servers and electronic components purchased by major vendors, allegedly including Amazon and Apple. The chips were alleged to have spied on users of the devices and sent unspecified data back to the Chinese military.

It’s critical to note up top that Amazon, Apple and Supermicro have categorically denied most of the claims in the Bloomberg piece. That is, their positions refuting core components of the story would appear to leave little wiggle room for future backtracking on those statements. Amazon also penned a blog post that more emphatically stated their objections to the Bloomberg piece.

Nevertheless, Bloomberg reporters write that “the companies’ denials are countered by six current and former senior national security officials, who—in conversations that began during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration—detailed the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation.”

The story continues:

Today, Supermicro sells more server motherboards than almost anyone else. It also dominates the $1 billion market for boards used in special-purpose computers, from MRI machines to weapons systems. Its motherboards can be found in made-to-order server setups at banks, hedge funds, cloud computing providers, and web-hosting services, among other places. Supermicro has assembly facilities in California, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, but its motherboards—its core product—are nearly all manufactured by contractors in China.

Many readers have asked for my take on this piece. I heard similar allegations earlier this year about Supermicro and tried mightily to verify them but could not. That in itself should be zero gauge of the story’s potential merit. After all, I am just one guy, whereas this is the type of scoop that usually takes entire portions of a newsroom to research, report and vet. By Bloomberg’s own account, the story took more than a year to report and write, and cites 17 anonymous sources as confirming the activity.

Most of what I have to share here is based on conversations with some clueful people over the years who would probably find themselves confined to a tiny, windowless room for an extended period if their names or quotes ever showed up in a story like this, so I will tread carefully around this subject.

The U.S. Government isn’t eager to admit it, but there has long been an unofficial inventory of tech components and vendors that are forbidden to buy from if you’re in charge of procuring products or services on behalf of the U.S. Government. Call it the “brown list, “black list,” “entity list” or what have you, but it’s basically an indelible index of companies that are on the permanent Shit List of Uncle Sam for having been caught pulling some kind of supply chain shenanigans.

More than a decade ago when I was a reporter with The Washington Post, I heard from an extremely well-placed source that one Chinese tech company had made it onto Uncle Sam’s entity list because they sold a custom hardware component for many Internet-enabled printers that secretly made a copy of every document or image sent to the printer and forwarded that to a server allegedly controlled by hackers aligned with the Chinese government.

That example gives a whole new meaning to the term “supply chain,” doesn’t it? If Bloomberg’s reporting is accurate, that’s more or less what we’re dealing with here in Supermicro as well.

But here’s the thing: Even if you identify which technology vendors are guilty of supply-chain hacks, it can be difficult to enforce their banishment from the procurement chain. One reason is that it is often tough to tell from the brand name of a given gizmo who actually makes all the multifarious components that go into any one electronic device sold today.

Take, for instance, the problem right now with insecure Internet of Things (IoT) devices — cheapo security cameras, Internet routers and digital video recorders — sold at places like Amazon and Walmart. Many of these IoT devices have become a major security problem because they are massively insecure by default and difficult if not also impractical to secure after they are sold and put into use.

For every company in China that produces these IoT devices, there are dozens of “white label” firms that market and/or sell the core electronic components as their own. So while security researchers might identify a set of security holes in IoT products made by one company whose products are white labeled by others, actually informing consumers about which third-party products include those vulnerabilities can be extremely challenging. In some cases, a technology vendor responsible for some part of this mess may simply go out of business or close its doors and re-emerge under different names and managers.

Mind you, there is no indication anyone is purposefully engineering so many of these IoT products to be insecure; a more likely explanation is that building in more security tends to make devices considerably more expensive and slower to market. In many cases, their insecurity stems from a combination of factors: They ship with every imaginable feature turned on by default; they bundle outdated software and firmware components; and their default settings are difficult or impossible for users to change.

We don’t often hear about intentional efforts to subvert the security of the technology supply chain simply because these incidents tend to get quickly classified by the military when they are discovered. But the U.S. Congress has held multiple hearings about supply chain security challenges, and the U.S. government has taken steps on several occasions to block Chinese tech companies from doing business with the federal government and/or U.S.-based firms.

Most recently, the Pentagon banned the sale of Chinese-made ZTE and Huawei phones on military bases, according to a Defense Department directive that cites security risks posed by the devices. The U.S. Department of Commerce also has instituted a seven-year export restriction for ZTE, resulting in a ban on U.S. component makers selling to ZTE.

Still, the issue here isn’t that we can’t trust technology products made in China. Indeed there are numerous examples of other countries — including the United States and its allies — slipping their own “backdoors” into hardware and software products.

Like it or not, the vast majority of electronics are made in China, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon. The central issue is that we don’t have any other choice right nowThe reason is that by nearly all accounts it would be punishingly expensive to replicate that manufacturing process here in the United States.

Even if the U.S. government and Silicon Valley somehow mustered the funding and political will to do that, insisting that products sold to U.S. consumers or the U.S. government be made only with components made here in the U.S.A. would massively drive up the cost of all forms of technology. Consumers would almost certainly balk at buying these way more expensive devices. Years of experience has shown that consumers aren’t interested in paying a huge premium for security when a comparable product with the features they want is available much more cheaply.

Indeed, noted security expert Bruce Schneier calls supply-chain security “an insurmountably hard problem.”

“Our IT industry is inexorably international, and anyone involved in the process can subvert the security of the end product,” Schneier wrote in an opinion piece published earlier this year in The Washington Post. “No one wants to even think about a US-only anything; prices would multiply many times over. We cannot trust anyone, yet we have no choice but to trust everyone. No one is ready for the costs that solving this would entail.”

The Bloomberg piece also addresses this elephant in the room:

“The problem under discussion wasn’t just technological. It spoke to decisions made decades ago to send advanced production work to Southeast Asia. In the intervening years, low-cost Chinese manufacturing had come to underpin the business models of many of America’s largest technology companies. Early on, Apple, for instance, made many of its most sophisticated electronics domestically. Then in 1992, it closed a state-of-the-art plant for motherboard and computer assembly in Fremont, Calif., and sent much of that work overseas.

Over the decades, the security of the supply chain became an article of faith despite repeated warnings by Western officials. A belief formed that China was unlikely to jeopardize its position as workshop to the world by letting its spies meddle in its factories. That left the decision about where to build commercial systems resting largely on where capacity was greatest and cheapest. “You end up with a classic Satan’s bargain,” one former U.S. official says. “You can have less supply than you want and guarantee it’s secure, or you can have the supply you need, but there will be risk. Every organization has accepted the second proposition.”

Another huge challenge of securing the technology supply chain is that it’s quite time consuming and expensive to detect when products may have been intentionally compromised during some part of the manufacturing process. Your typical motherboard of the kind produced by a company like Supermicro can include hundreds of chips, but it only takes one hinky chip to subvert the security of the entire product.

Also, most of the U.S. government’s efforts to police the global technology supply chain seem to be focused on preventing counterfeits — not finding secretly added spying components.

Finally, it’s not clear that private industry is up to the job, either. At least not yet.

“In the three years since the briefing in McLean, no commercially viable way to detect attacks like the one on Supermicro’s motherboards has emerged—or has looked likely to emerge,” the Bloomberg story concludes. “Few companies have the resources of Apple and Amazon, and it took some luck even for them to spot the problem. ‘This stuff is at the cutting edge of the cutting edge, and there is no easy technological solution,’ one of the people present in McLean says. ‘You have to invest in things that the world wants. You cannot invest in things that the world is not ready to accept yet.’”

For my part, I try not to spin my wheels worrying about things I can’t change, and the supply chain challenges definitely fit into that category. I’ll have some more thoughts on the supply chain problem and what we can do about it in an interview to be published next week.

But for the time being, there are some things worth thinking about that can help mitigate the threat from stealthy supply chain hacks. Writing for this week’s newsletter put out by the SANS Institute, a security training company based in Bethesda, Md., editorial board member William Hugh Murray has a few provocative thoughts:

  1. Abandon the password for all but trivial applications. Steve Jobs and the ubiquitous mobile computer have lowered the cost and improved the convenience of strong authentication enough to overcome all arguments against it.
  2. Abandon the flat network. Secure and trusted communication now trump ease of any-to-any communication.
  3. Move traffic monitoring from encouraged to essential.
  4. Establish and maintain end-to-end encryption for all applications. Think TLS, VPNs, VLANs and physically segmented networks. Software Defined Networks put this within the budget of most enterprises.
  5. Abandon the convenient but dangerously permissive default access control rule of “read/write/execute” in favor of restrictive “read/execute-only” or even better, “Least privilege.” Least privilege is expensive to administer but it is effective. Our current strategy of “ship low-quality early/patch late” is proving to be ineffective and more expensive in maintenance and breaches than we could ever have imagined.


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Mega Millions lottery: Did you win Friday’s $405M drawing? Live results (10/5/2018)

Posted October 05, 2018 at 10:45 PM | Updated October 05, 2018 at 11:05 PM

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Tesla adds Atari games and dash camera feature in new software update

Tesla has officially released the ninth version of its in-car software, which includes a new dash cam feature, Atari games (playable when parked), improved navigation, and more in what the company calls its “most substantial update yet.” Software version 9.0, as it’s called, is available to download on all Tesla cars now. Owners just have to connect their cars to a Wi-Fi hotspot to begin the update.

There are no advances for Tesla’s driver assistance system, Autopilot, though. CEO Elon Musk promised earlier this year that Tesla would start unlocking more of the features that he says will eventually make the company’s cars completely able to drive themselves. But the first of those features, called Navigate, is now listed as “coming soon” on the company’s website. (Musk said on Twitter that the feature needs “a few more weeks of validation.”)

Version 9.0 allows Tesla cars built after August 2017 to operate a “dash cam” mode. With this feature on, the car will record and store video from its front-facing camera in 10-minute clips. The new software update also adds new navigation features, with more detailed turn-by-turn directions, and better information on upcoming turns and exits on the highway.

Another new feature from the 9.0 update will also reduce the available acceleration at low speeds when the car sees an obstacle in its path, which Tesla says reduces the chance of a driver accidentally accelerating out of panic. The display behind the steering wheel now shows different types of vehicles, too, like bikes and trucks. This is instead of using a car to represent all objects detected by the car’s sensors and cameras, like before. Tesla says all eight of its cars’ external cameras are now active, which provides a “full 360-degree” view that creates “better situational awareness on the road.”

As usual, the new software includes some Easter eggs, this time in the form of Atari video games. The company doesn’t say which ones are included, or where people can find them in the software. The games can be played when the car is in park, using a mixture of the touchscreen and steering wheel controls. Musk said he was hoping to include Pole Position, Missile Command, and Tempest when he initially tweeted the idea in August.

Lastly, the Model 3 is getting a web browser and calendar in version 9.0, and apps on all of Tesla’s cars should be easier to access. Climate controls have been consolidated, too.

Tesla says it will have cars that update to version 9.0 run Navigate in “shadow mode,” essentially letting part of the car’s brain pretend that the feature is working, in order to help validate the software ahead of its release. Navigate will then be released to US customers in beta. Other, even more advanced features of Autopilot will be released in the following months, according to the company.

Tesla says Navigate is the “most advanced Autopilot feature ever.” It allows the car to guide itself — with driver supervision, Tesla says as a reminder — from on-ramp to off-ramp, can suggest lane changes, handle highway interchanges, and even take exits. Navigate is “designed to make finding and following the most efficient path to your destination even easier on the highway,” Tesla says.

Navigate will also have a new safety feature that forces the driver to confirm lane changes. Right now, drivers using Autopilot just flip the turn signal to have their car automatically change lanes. Navigate makes the driver do this twice. Tesla is also beefing up its blind spot monitoring by using the side and rear-facing cameras to help the rear-facing ultrasonic sensors detect when another car is creeping up beside you.

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