Staying connected when visiting Taiwan

So you booked a flight to visit Taiwan, and besides eagerly anticipating eating all the great food and seeing the beautiful sights, there’s a nagging thought in the back of your mind: how do I stay connected while on this fabulous island? After all, you’d love to share the experience via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.

Free wifi welcomes visitors

Upon your arrival to Taoyuan International Airport, the primary air transportation hub of Taiwan, you’ll be able to enjoy free wifi at the airport. The speed isn’t very fast, just enough for emails and messaging.

Yet the Taiwanese government offers something even better: free wifi for 30 days (extension up to 90 days). Dubbed “iTaiwan” (愛台灣, or “Love Taiwan”) it is one of the first nationwide wifi projects in the world, benefiting both citizens and visitors. The free wifi is available at all government offices, public education institutions, most tourist attractions, major transportation hubs, and even some private businesses. Prior to your trip, register for access on the iTaiwan portal with your arrival date, nationality, email address, and passport number. Then after you set foot on Taiwan, turn on wifi on your device and search for SSID iTaiwan. Activate your account and to authenticate you will use your passport number as the login and birthdate (yyyymmdd) as password.

Access to iTaiwan will also allow you to roam other municipal wifi networks like TPE-Free, Tainan-WiFi, and TANet.

Free wifi can also be found at the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores. There’s one at about every corner in Taiwan, especially in the major cities. Look for SSID WIFLY and keep in mind that you may have to click through an ad to enable access.

WIFLY also provides free wifi service to several other stores on the island, such as Starbucks, Mos Burger, and Burger King. You can stay online for 30 minutes per session, just reconnect to surf longer.

Going local

If you have a longer stay and require a local number or want 24/7 4G mobile internet, then you’ll have to buy a SIM from one of four Taiwanese mobile carriers. Check the websites of Chunghwa Telecom (CHT), FarEasTone (FET), Taiwan Mobile, or T Star for prepaid options (unfortunately most are in Chinese). You can find stores fairly easily (the airport has Chunghwa, Taiwan Mobile, and FarEasTone kiosks), and they’re usually clustered near each other in cities. Remember that you’ll need two forms of identification (passport and driver’s license will do) as a visitor to buy a SIM. Mobile calls in Taiwan are charged differently between “in-net” (calls within the same carrier) and “off-net” (calls to a different carrier).

Unsurprisingly, these mobile carriers also operate wifi hotspots nationwide and sell prepaid wifi cards as well. Purchase wifi cards at their respective convenience store partners.

Lastly, you can rent a mobile hotspot but this is uncommon and probably a bit expensive. The plus side with this option is that it’ll provide Internet access for multiple devices, so it may be worth it for a whole family with several devices.

LINE is a verb

Here’s a tip for those on a longer stay: install LINE on your smartphone. Something like 80% of the population uses this messaging app. Businesses and government agencies use it. Your Taiwanese relatives all have it, and any new friends you make during the trip will ask for it. The app will let you make free LINE-to-LINE voice calls, too, but you’ll need fast and reliable wifi.

Surf securely

Never assume your data is safe when connected to public wifi, no matter where you are. Invest in a reliable VPN service, preferably one that has servers across the globe. Having VPN may also allow you to overcome online services with regional restrictions.

Final words

Taiwan carriers use GSM like most of the world, so if you plan to use your phone on the trip make sure it is compatible. Smartphones are very popular and most people have Android devices.

All the U.S. carriers offer international roaming if you like seeing money quickly disappear from your wallet. I wouldn’t even consider this option unless I’m spending three days or less in Taiwan.

It’s always good to have a Plan B, and that’s why I have Skype and Skype WiFi apps on my iPhone. Buy some Skype credits before the trip, and if no free wifi can be found then Skype WiFi can come to the rescue with its many roaming partners. It might cost something like $0.20 per minute, but could be useful in a pinch.

Enjoy your time in Taiwan, and please share your experience of staying connected during the visit!

Tesla’s real gamble and innovation

On the night of March 31 Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model 3 to great fanfare. Even before his announcement, Tesla stores all over the world saw long lines from fans willing to put down a $1,000 deposit to reserve an EV they have not yet seen. It’s a testament to the automaker’s brand and its success with the Model S and Model X cars. Perhaps also a testament to the public’s readiness to ditch fossil fuels?

Many have compared Musk to Steve Jobs and Tesla to Apple. Even the diehard crowds from yesterday remind people of the craziness surrounding an iPhone launch. Both CEOs and companies aim to make beautifully designed products to turn customers into brand loyalists.

But honestly, electric cars won’t be the near-term transformative technology from Tesla. Compared with other automakers, Tesla is a small fish in terms of sales. There’s no doubt that its products are unique, but even that will change soon as Big Auto pour tons of resources into developing their own EVs. In fact, General Motors’s Bolt will probably beat Tesla to the punch in terms of delivering an EV for the masses when it becomes available in early 2017. Last night Musk said he’s targeting late 2017 for the Model 3 to be delivered.

Besides, even if we intend 2017 to be “The Year of the EV,” it’s still unlikely that a few years later EVs will outnumber traditional gas-powered automobiles.

The real gamble and innovation behind Tesla is how it sells its cars: direct. No dealerships and no need to involve middlemen. In going with the Apple comparison again, it’s much like buying music straight from iTunes Store. With Apple, the iTunes Store was envisioned to help sell iPods, but it was so popular that it became a massive income generator. The consumer’s appetite for middlemen was clearly dwindling.

To Tesla, its cars are just hardware running software. It won’t be difficult for the company to create an online “Tesla Store” where you can buy upgrades or apps for your car. It already has the capability to deliver software upgrades wirelessly. In the not-so-distant future, you may be able to buy from Tesla an upgrade to go 0-60 in 4 seconds, or an app to enable AR display on the windshield.

The 200,000 (and counting) pre-orders of the Model 3 is quite an achievement for Tesla, but ultimately its success will be judged by the effectiveness of the direct-to-consumer approach. If successful then truly will it transform the automotive industry just as Apple’s iTunes Store changed the music industry forever.

Inside the Cunning, Unprecedented Hack of Ukraine’s Power Grid

Wired offers an in-depth look at how hackers crippled Ukraine’s power grid last year. Very interesting that they deployed TDoS attacks to flood the power company’s call centers so nobody could call in to report anything:

[…] they launched a telephone denial-of-service attack against customer call centers to prevent customers from calling in to report the outage. TDoS attacks are similar to DDoS attacks that send a flood of data to web servers. In this case, the center’s phone systems were flooded with thousands of bogus calls that appeared to come from Moscow, in order to prevent legitimate callers from getting through.

Most enterprises probably haven’t even thought about defending against TDoS attacks, but it’s definitely a threat these days with cheap VoIP and number spoofing. Not to mention cybercriminal call centers.

Aspect Software files Chapter 11

Don’t worry, it’s business as usual. The company needed to reduce debt, secure new financing, and borrow more money to grow.

According to Aspect’s press release and another report, $320 million of debt is to be eliminated. With revenue of $400 million, that’s a lot of debt to be carrying around. Looks like the balance sheet finally buckled under pressure.

Aspect is by far the most Microsoft-centric contact center software company, stemming from an investment by the software giant around 2008. The companies have close ties, and Aspect’s products integrate well with Microsoft’s.

It was pretty exciting to hear Aspect buyout Voxeo in 2013, but now it appears that the company has difficulties pivoting to cloud-based solutions to catch up with competitors. The money spent on acquiring Voxeo was 50% of the debt, in retrospect a gamble that may not have played out too well. Jonathan Taylor, a cofounder of Voxeo, chimed in via LinkedIn on his thoughts of how Aspect got itself in trouble.

Let’s hope the company will get over this bump on the road and emerge even stronger financially.

FBI wants to pwn your iPhone (and Apple)

Unless you live under a rock (or use a BlackBerry?), you have no doubt heard about the brouhaha over Apple’s latest battle against the FBI and DOJ. In summary, the FBI has a court order containing very specific technical requests for Apple to implement in order to unlock the iPhone 5C used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists, Sayed Rizwan Farook. The attack by Farook and his wife occurred on December 2, 2015 killed 14 people.

Apple doesn’t want to do it, so it’s very likely this battle will be drawn out.

First, the good news: this court order is the FBI’s admission that it cannot break Apple’s encryption on iOS, the operating system of its mobile devices. If you enable an unlock PIN and/or TouchID and run iOS 8 or later, your data is even more secured.

(On a side note: Why hasn’t such a court order been seen for an Android device? Ponder that for a moment…)

Besides strong encryption, Apple also implements features to thwart brute force attempts to compromise an iOS device:

  • The user data can be wiped after a certain number of incorrect PIN entries
  • There’s a delay after every incorrect PIN entry
  • The PIN has to be manually entered on the screen

Thus, the court order aims to compel Apple to create a specialized, custom iOS for the seized iPhone 5C that will bypass the above three security features. In essence, the FBI wants to be able to have unlimited PIN guesses with no delays via a wired or wireless connection.

My take (and there are others) is that Apple probably has the technical capabilities to achieve this and grant the government’s wishes. However, I do not think Apple should comply without a fight simply because of the precedence this will set. Consider these scenarios and consequences:

  • Think about how many Apple devices get seized and are investigated by law enforcement. It would be burdensome for Apple to have to create a custom iOS tailored to each individual device in order to assist authorities in such matters.
  • What if such a custom iOS is leaked to the wild or sold to the highest bidder, either by a member of law enforcement or even by an employee of Apple? Imagine the damage if a nation-state or hacker has access to this.
  • Should the FBI win this battle, foreign governments will likely follow suit, knowing Apple could be compelled to assist their authorities in unlocking devices.

American corporations are not agents of the U.S. government. If this battle is lost, then most tech companies will need a special department just to serve the FBI, NSA, TSA, and other three-letter agencies. There is a distrust between people and government today, and that’s why most people side with Apple on this issue, especially when people heavily rely on mobile devices to store personal data. The fear is that a precedence would allow the government to encroach further into our personal lives.

The Last Days of Target

From Canadian Business, the details of how Target failed in Canada. A good case study in global IT (in particular, the bloated SAP software suite) management?

The company had also been learning more about using SAP correctly. Former employees describe decoding SAP as like peeling an onion—it had multiple layers and made you want to cry. One initiative in particular greatly improved Target’s data quality. A technology team was finally able to install an automatic verification feature to catch bad data before it could enter SAP and wreak havoc. If an employee entered a UPC that was short one digit, for example, the system wouldn’t allow that purchase order to proceed until the code was correct. The technology Target used in the U.S. has these checks and balances, as do other retailers who use SAP. Target Canada finally implemented a verification tool in 2014, according to a former employee who was involved, owing to time constraints. “This happened very late in the game.”

Emphasis mine.