Goodbye (and Good Riddance), 1-800-GOOG-411

Now, I understand that not everyone owns a smartphone or a feature phone with a data plan. For these folks, there’s still 1-800-FREE-411. And you can still ping Google by text message (“466453,” or “GOOGLE”) to get listings as text, which is arguably more useful than spoken directory listings, anyway.

The reason I’m actually happy, and not just indifferent, to see the end of GOOG-411 is in line with Google’s explanation: They want more resources to work on the next generation of speech-enabled services. Recently, Google introduced Voice Actions, which allow Android users to send text messages, punch in GPS directions and listen to music, all with speech.

I imagine that the initial purpose of GOOG-411, to harvest phonemes for other voice services, is now better fulfilled through these new services and Google Voice. If the end of GOOG-411 speeds the delivery of more speech-enabled features like Voice Actions, or perhaps makes Google Voice transcriptions less awful, I’ll shed no tears for Google’s Old Yeller.


In announcing the imminent end of 1-800-GOOG-411, a free by-phone directory service, Google got sentimental and called the service an “old friend.” I couldn’t be happier to see it go.

For me, the announcement served mainly as a reminder that GOOG-411 existed in the first place. Sure, I knew about it, but owning a smartphone pretty much renders 411 services obsolete. Looking up a business on the Internet is faster, and delivers better results.

For kicks, I just used GOOG-411, which won’t shut down until November 12, to look up my favorite bagel shop in Los Angeles. The automated directory took a minute to deliver results, and Google didn’t even have the eatery in its listings. Yelp does, so when I conducted a voice search with Google’s mobile app, finding the information among plain old search results took half the time.

Leer más “Goodbye (and Good Riddance), 1-800-GOOG-411”

Innovation is only one piece of the puzzle

So the Swiss are better than us. Well, goody for them. But the question for investors is whether the Swiss knack for innovation translates into remarkable stock market gains.

It should. After all, innovation gives companies an edge over their competitors, and that should lead to solid market share and fat profit margins. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Victorinox AG is a closely held company, meaning that you can’t invest in it through the stock market or track its interest among investors. But you can track the Swiss Market Index, which represents the country’s 20 largest stocks: Its performance has been lagging Canada’s benchmark index by a substantial margin.

Over the past one-year, three-year and five-year periods, the S&P/TSX composite index has consistently outperformed the Swiss index. Over the past decade, the Canadian index has risen a total 49 per cent after factoring in dividends, while the Swiss index has risen a mere 1 per cent.

Why? This isn’t a strike against innovation, but rather an indication that there might be bigger factors at work when it comes to driving stock prices – like, uh, luck and commodities.

For example, Swiss financial firms were dealt severe setbacks during the financial crisis, which translated into massive writedowns and quarterly losses. UBS AG shares remain 76-per-cent below their pre-crisis highs, and Julius Baer Group Ltd. shares are still down 52 per cent.

By comparison, Canadian banks largely escaped the carnage. The worst hit, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, is down a relatively mild 28 per cent from its pre-crisis high, while Toronto-Dominion Bank is down all of 2 per cent.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to duck the fact that higher prices for crude oil, gold and fertilizer have helped drive triple-digit gains for Canada’s energy and materials sectors, which together represent nearly half of the composite index in terms of their weighting.


David Berman
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/markets/markets-blog/innovation-is-only-one-piece-of-the-puzzle/article1750632/

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
So the Swiss are better than us. Well, goody for them. But the question for investors is whether the Swiss knack for innovation translates into remarkable stock market gains.

It should. After all, innovation gives companies an edge over their competitors, and that should lead to solid market share and fat profit margins. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Victorinox AG is a closely held company, meaning that you can’t invest in it through the stock market or track its interest among investors. But you can track the Swiss Market Index, which represents the country’s 20 largest stocks: Its performance has been lagging Canada’s benchmark index by a substantial margin.

Over the past one-year, three-year and five-year periods, the S&P/TSX composite index has consistently outperformed the Swiss index. Over the past decade, the Canadian index has risen a total 49 per cent after factoring in dividends, while the Swiss index has risen a mere 1 per cent.

Why? This isn’t a strike against innovation, but rather an indication that there might be bigger factors at work when it comes to driving stock prices – like, uh, luck and commodities.

For example, Swiss financial firms were dealt severe setbacks during the financial crisis, which translated into massive writedowns and quarterly losses. UBS AG shares remain 76-per-cent below their pre-crisis highs, and Julius Baer Group Ltd. shares are still down 52 per cent.

By comparison, Canadian banks largely escaped the carnage. The worst hit, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, is down a relatively mild 28 per cent from its pre-crisis high, while Toronto-Dominion Bank is down all of 2 per cent.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to duck the fact that higher prices for crude oil, gold and fertilizer have helped drive triple-digit gains for Canada’s energy and materials sectors, which together represent nearly half of the composite index in terms of their weighting. Leer más “Innovation is only one piece of the puzzle”

Switzerland blazes innovation trail

A nearby flight instrument company, Flytec, approached Victorinox with a suggestion for a gadget geared to mountain climbers. Flytec now supplies the knife maker with electronics for an altimeter, barometer, thermometer and clock.

The company has made mistakes – a tool for in-line skaters that came with a separate pouch for different-sized keys wasn’t a success – but Victorinox continues to tinker and add new features to its products. Mr. Elsener’s top goal is to boost the appeal of Swiss Army knives among women, who tend to buy them more for the men in their lives.

In the global scheme of things, Victorinox is a small company. But like other Swiss firms – from online scheduler Doodle to Thermoplan, which supplies coffee machines to Starbucks – it has found its niche. And that’s reason to believe Switzerland’s economy may keep on thriving.

“I strongly believe in the future of Switzerland because of globalization, because open economies can play advantages in innovation even better than protected economies,” Mr. Gassman said. True, it costs more to make stuff there, but that “can be overcompensated by productivity – and even more innovative products and design.”


Victorinox logo.

TAVIA GRANT
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/growth/switzerland-blazes-innovation-trail/article1750626/

IBACH, SWITZERLAND— From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

In a tiny town in central Switzerland surrounded by velvety green mountains and punctuated with whiffs of cow dung, a 126-year-old factory churns out 60,000 Swiss Army knives and other pocket tools each day for a hungry global market.

All the folding blades at Victorinox AG are still made in Ibach, population 3,500. The company is run by the founding Elsener family, now in its fourth generation. Its brand has, over the years, become synonymous with Switzerland itself: quality, precision, reliability.

Yet Victorinox is anything but static. Back in 1891, its main product was a heavy, wood-handled knife built for the Swiss army. Now, its knives come equipped with laser pointers and USB drives with biometric sensors. The factory has been upgraded to the latest high-tech gadgetry (machines that look like fingers do the finicky job of assembling the knives), leaving workers free to develop new tools. Sales are roughly $200-million a year, 90 per cent of its products are exported, and it is expanding into new markets such as Brazil, Argentina and China. All this, and employees still get 1½-hour lunch breaks.

Carl Elsener Jr., Victorinox’s approachable chief executive officer, proudly proclaims that his company has never outsourced production or axed jobs due to recession – in fact, it has a history of boosting investment, not cutting it, during economic downturns. He credits its endurance to innovation, which is helping Victorinox face its biggest challenge yet: competition from cheap Asian counterfeits.

“Innovation is in our blood here in Switzerland – since the beginning, we’ve always tried to make things better,” Mr. Elsener said in an interview at his company’s headquarters. “Maybe it’s because we were forced early to be global and to think about exports.”

Innovation seems to seep from Swiss pores. The Alpine nation of 8 million people was named the world’s most competitive economy in a recent ranking by the World Economic Forum, and regularly leads the world when it comes to innovation. The Swiss hold the most patents per capita in Europe – Albert Einstein once worked in the Bern patent office – and the country is a hub for global giants such as Swatch, UBS and Nestlé.

Canada, meanwhile, is still struggling to shed its hewer-of-wood image. The Conference Board of Canada slapped the country with yet another “D” in innovation this year, and it slid to 10th place in the WEC rankings. For Canada to thrive in a global, knowledge-based economy, it must focus on turning good ideas, of which we have plenty, into marketable products, which we’re not so good at. Switzerland offers plenty of lessons on how to do it.

“It’s about desire,” said Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management. “European countries are more practised in how to compete in sophisticated ways. They can’t chop down trees, dig out rocks, or fish. So they’ve been at it longer to upgrade their products.”

It’s tough to imagine it now, but in the late 1800s, as Victorinox founder Karl Elsener was training as a master cutler, Switzerland was one of the poorest nations in Europe. Its economy was largely based on agriculture, and robbers ruled the roads. It had no coal, steel or iron – no natural resources at all, in fact – and for a time, the industrial revolution bypassed the tiny mountain nation.

Out of necessity, much like Japan, it developed a knack for importing goods and putting them together in smarter ways, or copying other people’s products and making them better.

Over the years, said Oliver Gassmann, chair of innovation management at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland developed a unique innovation policy.

“It’s bottom-up, science-based and market-oriented,” he said.

Education is key to the country’s position as an innovation hub. Its school system produces world-class scientists who are focused on the pragmatic implementation of new ideas, Mr. Gassmann said. And Swiss universities and technical schools collaborate with multiple partners, including businesses, to bring ideas to market. Leer más “Switzerland blazes innovation trail”

A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

The iconic writer reveals the shape of things to come, with 45 tips for survival and a matching glossary of the new words you’ll need to talk about your messed-up future.

1) It’s going to get worse

No silver linings and no lemonade. The elevator only goes down. The bright note is that the elevator will, at some point, stop.

2) The future isn’t going to feel futuristic

It’s simply going to feel weird and out-of-control-ish, the way it does now, because too many things are changing too quickly. The reason the future feels odd is because of its unpredictability. If the future didn’t feel weirdly unexpected, then something would be wrong.

3) The future is going to happen no matter what we do. The future will feel even faster than it does now

The next sets of triumphing technologies are going to happen, no matter who invents them or where or how. Not that technology alone dictates the future, but in the end it always leaves its mark. The only unknown factor is the pace at which new technologies will appear. This technological determinism, with its sense of constantly awaiting a new era-changing technology every day, is one of the hallmarks of the next decade.

4)Move to Vancouver, San Diego, Shannon or Liverpool

There’ll be just as much freaky extreme weather in these west-coast cities, but at least the west coasts won’t be broiling hot and cryogenically cold.

5) You’ll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent state

6) The middle class is over. It’s not coming back

Remember travel agents? Remember how they just kind of vanished one day?

That’s where all the other jobs that once made us middle-class are going – to that same, magical, class-killing, job-sucking wormhole into which travel-agency jobs vanished, never to return. However, this won’t stop people from self-identifying as middle-class, and as the years pass we’ll be entering a replay of the antebellum South, when people defined themselves by the social status of their ancestors three generations back. Enjoy the new monoclass!

7) Retail will start to resemble Mexican drugstores

In Mexico, if one wishes to buy a toothbrush, one goes to a drugstore where one of every item for sale is on display inside a glass display case that circles the store. One selects the toothbrush and one of an obvious surplus of staff runs to the back to fetch the toothbrush. It’s not very efficient, but it does offer otherwise unemployed people something to do during the day.

8) Try to live near a subway entrance

In a world of crazy-expensive oil, it’s the only real estate that will hold its value, if not increase.

9) The suburbs are doomed, especially thoseE.T. , California-style suburbs

This is a no-brainer, but the former homes will make amazing hangouts for gangs, weirdoes and people performing illegal activities. The pretend gates at the entranceways to gated communities will become real, and the charred stubs of previous white-collar homes will serve only to make the still-standing structures creepier and more exotic.

10) In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness

11) Old people won’t be quite so clueless

No more “the Google,” because they’ll be just that little bit younger.

12) Expect less

Not zero, just less.

13) Enjoy lettuce while you still can

And anything else that arrives in your life from a truck, for that matter. For vegetables, get used to whatever it is they served in railway hotels in the 1890s. Jams. Preserves. Pickled everything.


FOCUS
Douglas Coupland
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/a-radical-pessimists-guide-to-the-next-10-years/article1750609/singlepage/#articlecontent

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Coupland’s glossary of new terms (important)

The iconic writer reveals the shape of things to come, with 45 tips for survival and a matching glossary of the new words you’ll need to talk about your messed-up future.

1) It’s going to get worse

No silver linings and no lemonade. The elevator only goes down. The bright note is that the elevator will, at some point, stop.

 

2) The future isn’t going to feel futuristic

It’s simply going to feel weird and out-of-control-ish, the way it does now, because too many things are changing too quickly. The reason the future feels odd is because of its unpredictability. If the future didn’t feel weirdly unexpected, then something would be wrong.

3) The future is going to happen no matter what we do. The future will feel even faster than it does now

The next sets of triumphing technologies are going to happen, no matter who invents them or where or how. Not that technology alone dictates the future, but in the end it always leaves its mark. The only unknown factor is the pace at which new technologies will appear. This technological determinism, with its sense of constantly awaiting a new era-changing technology every day, is one of the hallmarks of the next decade.

4)Move to Vancouver, San Diego, Shannon or Liverpool

There’ll be just as much freaky extreme weather in these west-coast cities, but at least the west coasts won’t be broiling hot and cryogenically cold.

5) You’ll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent state

6) The middle class is over. It’s not coming back

Remember travel agents? Remember how they just kind of vanished one day?

That’s where all the other jobs that once made us middle-class are going – to that same, magical, class-killing, job-sucking wormhole into which travel-agency jobs vanished, never to return. However, this won’t stop people from self-identifying as middle-class, and as the years pass we’ll be entering a replay of the antebellum South, when people defined themselves by the social status of their ancestors three generations back. Enjoy the new monoclass!

7) Retail will start to resemble Mexican drugstores

In Mexico, if one wishes to buy a toothbrush, one goes to a drugstore where one of every item for sale is on display inside a glass display case that circles the store. One selects the toothbrush and one of an obvious surplus of staff runs to the back to fetch the toothbrush. It’s not very efficient, but it does offer otherwise unemployed people something to do during the day.

8) Try to live near a subway entrance

In a world of crazy-expensive oil, it’s the only real estate that will hold its value, if not increase.

9) The suburbs are doomed, especially thoseE.T. , California-style suburbs

This is a no-brainer, but the former homes will make amazing hangouts for gangs, weirdoes and people performing illegal activities. The pretend gates at the entranceways to gated communities will become real, and the charred stubs of previous white-collar homes will serve only to make the still-standing structures creepier and more exotic.

10) In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness

11) Old people won’t be quite so clueless

No more “the Google,” because they’ll be just that little bit younger.

12) Expect less

Not zero, just less.

13) Enjoy lettuce while you still can

And anything else that arrives in your life from a truck, for that matter. For vegetables, get used to whatever it is they served in railway hotels in the 1890s. Jams. Preserves. Pickled everything. Leer más “A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years”

Warning: Fake LinkedIn Spam Can Steal Your Bank Passwords

Bogus LinkedIn emails can infect your computer with ZeuS, a password-stealing Trojan. I know, because it just happened to me.

By Dan Tynan, ITworld

Warning: Fake LinkedIn Spam Can Steal Your Bank PasswordsI feel like a complete idiot. I just got taken by a LinkedIn spam that may have just stolen my banking password.

This is not the first time I’ve been an idiot or clicked on something I shouldn’t. But this one could be really bad for me.

Today, spammers using fake Linked-In invitations attacked the Net in a massive way. How massive? According to Cisco Security, at one point today nearly 1 in 4 spam messages was a Fake LinkedIn invite.

Linked-In spam is nothing new — I wrote about it just last month– but this attack was particularly nasty, because it can embed password-stealing malware into your browser without you realizing it.

[ See also: Yes, Mr. Zuckerberg, we do care about privacy ]

My story: I saw several LinkedIn invites in my Gmail spam folder, and stupidly opened one of them inside Google Chrome. I even saw that the links inside the email were not to LinkedIn but to some oddly named third-party site. But curious about what would happen (and stupidly confident that my Kaspersky anti-malware software would protect me), I clicked it. My browser started to launch a new site, then quickly redirected to my home page.

Weird, I thought. I tried it again. Same thing happened. I figured that whatever site it was driving me toward had already been taken down by one of the anti-malware orgs like StopBadware.com, and thought nothing more about it.

A couple of hours later I logged into my banking site to check on my account. No big deal.

An hour after that I received the following email from Cisco Security:


Bogus LinkedIn emails can infect your computer with ZeuS, a password-stealing Trojan. I know, because it just happened to me.

By Dan Tynan, ITworld

Warning: Fake LinkedIn Spam Can Steal Your Bank PasswordsI feel like a complete idiot. I just got taken by a LinkedIn spam that may have just stolen my banking password.

This is not the first time I’ve been an idiot or clicked on something I shouldn’t. But this one could be really bad for me.

Today, spammers using fake Linked-In invitations attacked the Net in a massive way. How massive? According to Cisco Security, at one point today nearly 1 in 4 spam messages was a Fake LinkedIn invite.

Linked-In spam is nothing new — I wrote about it just last month— but this attack was particularly nasty, because it can embed password-stealing malware into your browser without you realizing it.

[ See also: Yes, Mr. Zuckerberg, we do care about privacy ]

My story: I saw several LinkedIn invites in my Gmail spam folder, and stupidly opened one of them inside Google Chrome. I even saw that the links inside the email were not to LinkedIn but to some oddly named third-party site. But curious about what would happen (and stupidly confident that my Kaspersky anti-malware software would protect me), I clicked it. My browser started to launch a new site, then quickly redirected to my home page.

Weird, I thought. I tried it again. Same thing happened. I figured that whatever site it was driving me toward had already been taken down by one of the anti-malware orgs like StopBadware.com, and thought nothing more about it.

A couple of hours later I logged into my banking site to check on my account. No big deal.

An hour after that I received the following email from Cisco Security: Leer más “Warning: Fake LinkedIn Spam Can Steal Your Bank Passwords”

Trojan Forces Firefox to Save Your Passwords

Most security researchers recommend that users tell Firefox not to remember their passwords, since saved ones are so easily extracted by malware.

The Trojan-PWS-Nslog malware discovered by security company Webroot, however, gets around user preferences altogether by actually deactivating the Firefox code that asks if it should save those passwords when the user logs into a secure site.

“Before the infection, a default installation of Firefox 3.6.10 would prompt the user after the user clicks the Log In button on a Web page, asking whether he or she wants to save the password,” Webroot researcher Andrew Brandt explained in a blog post on Wednesday. “After the infection, the browser simply saves all login credentials locally, and doesn’t prompt the user.”

Specifically, the Trojan adds a few lines of code and “comments out” other portions of code from the Firefox file called nsLoginManagerPrompter.js, with the result that all passwords get saved locally without any input from the user.

Clues Left Behind

With that information, the Trojan creates a new account under the name “Maestro” on the infected computer. It then “scrapes information from the registry, from the so-called Protected Storage area used by IE to store passwords, and from Firefox’s own password storage, and tries to pass the stolen information onward, once per minute,” Brandt added.

The Web domain intended to receive the stolen data has already been shut down, but code inside the malware revealed the author’s name and email address, which led Webroot to a Facebook page for a hacker based in Iran who provides a free keylogger creator tool targeting users of Microsoft Windows.

Webroot can easily identify and remove the Trojan from infected machines, it says. To fix the modified Firefox file, users should download the latest Firefox installer and install it over the existing installation. No bookmarks or add-ons will be lost in the process, Brandt said.


By Katherine Noyes, PCWorld

A Firefox Trojan has been found to force the Internet browser to save user passwords and then use those passwords to create a new user account on the infected computer.

Most security researchers recommend that users tell Firefox not to remember their passwords, since saved ones are so easily extracted by malware.

The Trojan-PWS-Nslog malware discovered by security company Webroot, however, gets around user preferences altogether by actually deactivating the Firefox code that asks if it should save those passwords when the user logs into a secure site.

“Before the infection, a default installation of Firefox 3.6.10 would prompt the user after the user clicks the Log In button on a Web page, asking whether he or she wants to save the password,” Webroot researcher Andrew Brandt explained in a blog post on Wednesday. “After the infection, the browser simply saves all login credentials locally, and doesn’t prompt the user.”

Specifically, the Trojan adds a few lines of code and “comments out” other portions of code from the Firefox file called nsLoginManagerPrompter.js, with the result that all passwords get saved locally without any input from the user.

Clues Left Behind

With that information, the Trojan creates a new account under the name “Maestro” on the infected computer. It then “scrapes information from the registry, from the so-called Protected Storage area used by IE to store passwords, and from Firefox’s own password storage, and tries to pass the stolen information onward, once per minute,” Brandt added.

The Web domain intended to receive the stolen data has already been shut down, but code inside the malware revealed the author’s name and email address, which led Webroot to a Facebook page for a hacker based in Iran who provides a free keylogger creator tool targeting users of Microsoft Windows.

Webroot can easily identify and remove the Trojan from infected machines, it says. To fix the modified Firefox file, users should download the latest Firefox installer and install it over the existing installation. No bookmarks or add-ons will be lost in the process, Brandt said. Leer más “Trojan Forces Firefox to Save Your Passwords”

Modernizers, Preservationists and Innovation | By Tim Kastelle & John Steen

In contrast, the Modernizers embrace dynamism:

Dynamism, by contrast, requires ongoing leaps of faith since we must continuously embrace, or at least accept, the fundamental uncertainty of social / technological change. I love the scene at the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” [clip below] where Indy has to make the “leap of faith” and step out onto a walkway that doesn’t appear to be there at first. It’s a useful way of thinking about how we must sometimes approach life in the Digital Age.

Finally, he explains why he sides with the Modernizers:

It’s just amazing how fast disruptive innovation unfolds on the digital frontier. Again, no one knows what lies around the corner next. But if we were to adopt the “preservationist” mentality, we might never find out. We have to continue to be willing to take little leaps of faith each day. It’s vital that we embrace evolutionary dynamism and leave a broad sphere for continued experimentation by individuals and organizations alike…


By Tim Kastelle & John Steen
http://timkastelle.org/blog/2010/10/modernizers-preservationists-and-innovation/

Adam Therrier wrote a terrific post today exploring his ongoing major theme comparing internet optimists and pessimists. He has written a series of very interesting posts assessing the arguments of the pessimists that think that the impact of the internet on society is generally bad (e.g. Nick Carr, Andrew Keen, Jaron Lanier), and the optimists that think that the internet is transformational, and positive (e.g. Clay Shirky, Kevin Kelly, all the Cluetrain Manifesto guys).

In today’s post, Therrier quotes some ideas from Rob Atkinson, who builds on Virginia Postrel’s ideas about dynamism and stasis. He describes the Preservationists this way:

From their perspective, evolutionary dynamism is undesirable precisely because we can’t preserve some of the things which they feel made that previous era great. That something could be a specific form of culture, a particular set of institutions, or any number of other things. The key point is: The don’t like the fact the technology is fundamentally disruptive and that is dislodges old norms and institutions. What is familiar is more comforting than that which is unknown or uncertain. That’s the security blanket that the stasis / preservationist mentality provides. Leer más “Modernizers, Preservationists and Innovation | By Tim Kastelle & John Steen”