On These Dairy Farms, Cows Decide When to Be Milked
ByJESSE McKINLEYApril 28, 2014
EASTON, N.Y. — Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.
Desperate for reliable
labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state
are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers,
which feed and milk cow after cow without ever touching one with a human
“I’d rather be a cow manager,” Mr. Borden said, “than a people manager.”
Scores of the machines have
popped up across New York’s dairy belt and in other states in recent
years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating
the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy — and manure-averse —
“We’re used to computers
and stuff, and it’s more in line with that,” said Mike Borden, 29, a
seventh-generation dairyman, whose farm upgraded to robots, as others
did, when disco-era milking parlors — the big, mechanized turntables
that farmers use to milk many cows at once — started showing their age.
“And,” Mr. Borden added, “it’s a lot more fun than doing manual labor.”
The view is improved as
well. “Most milking parlors, you see, you really only see the back end
of the cow,” Mr. Borden’s father, Tom, said. “I don’t see that as
building up much of a relationship.”
The cows seem to like it, too.
Robots allow the cows to
set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a
day — turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions around which
dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.
With transponders around
their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map
their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal’s “milking speed,”
a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.
The robots also monitor the
amount and quality of milk produced, the frequency of visits to the
machine, how much each cow has eaten, and even the number of steps each
cow has taken per day, which can indicate when she is in heat.
“The animals just walk
through,” said Jay Skellie, a dairyman from Salem, N.Y., after watching a
demonstration. “I think we’ve got to look real hard at robots.”
Many of those running small
farms said the choice of a computerized milker came down to a bigger
question: whether to upgrade or just give up.
“Either we were going to
get out, we were going to get bigger, or we were going to try something
different,” said the elder Mr. Borden, 59, whose family has been working
a patch of ground about 30 miles northeast of Albany since 1837. “And
this was something a little different.”
The Bordens and other
farmers say a major force is cutting labor costs — health insurance,
room and board, overtime, and workers’ compensation insurance —
particularly when immigration reform is stalled in Washington and
dependable help is hard to procure.
The machines also never complain about getting up early, working late or being kicked.
“It’s tough to find people
to do it well and show up on time,” said Tim Kurtz, who installed four
robotic milkers last year at his farm in Berks County, Pa. “And you
don’t have to worry about that with a robot.”
The Bordens say the machines allow them to do more of what they love: caring for animals.
“I’d rather be a cow manager,” Tom Borden said, “than a people manager.”
The machines are not
inexpensive, costing up to $250,000 (not including barn improvements)
for a unit that includes a mechanical arm, teat-cleaning equipment,
computerized displays, a milking apparatus and sensors to detect the
position of the teats. Pioneered in Europe in the 1990s, they have only
recently taken hold in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New York, which is a
leader in the production of Greek yogurt and the third-largest milk producer in the country.
Kathy Barrett, a senior extension associate
at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University,
credited a recent surge in milk prices with motivating dairy owners to
seek new ways to improve their farms — and farm life.
“It’s really the flexibility of not stopping doing hay because at 3 o’clock you have to go milk,” Ms. Barrett said.
Ms. Barrett said about 30 farms in New York had installed more than 100 robotic milkers. Two European manufacturers, Lely and DeLaval,
said they had installed hundreds more across the country. California,
the nation’s leading dairy producer, has been a curious holdout, in part
because there were problems at some farms that adopted the technology
in its early years.
The president of Western
United Dairymen, Tom Barcellos, who milks some 1,300 cattle at his
operation in Tulare County, Calif., said he was intrigued by the robots
but worried that they would be too slow to keep up with the needs of a
“They just don’t milk enough cows to be economical,” Mr. Barcellos said. “You might milk 40 cows an hour. We can do 80.”
But farmers said output
generally increased with robots because most cows like being milked more
often. (To allow lactation, cows are kept in a near-constant state of
Animal welfare advocates
give the new machines a guarded thumbs-up. “Not being milked hurts,”
said Paul Shapiro, a vice president of the Humane Society of the United
States. He said letting cows move more freely was also an improvement on
older methods that involved tying cows to stanchions.
The machines have mellowed
both the cows and much of the routine on the Bordens’ farm — though the
humans have received the occasional distress call from their mechanized
“It’s a machine, so it breaks down,” Mike Borden said. “But people get sick, too.”
All of which has the Bordens considering more robots, and dreaming of the perquisites that enhanced automation could bring.
“I don’t think I’m ever
going to sleep in real late,” Tom Borden said. “But if we could roll it
back another hour, that would be great.”
Users’ Stark Reminder: As Web Grows, It Grows Less Secure
ByFARHAD MANJOOApril 11, 2014
"Heartbleed is further evidence that we don’t have our house in order when it comes to Internet security,” said Edward Felten of Princeton.
Eva Russo/Momenta Creative
It was the computer programming equivalent of misspelling Mississippi — an error at once careless, inevitable and hard for most human eyes to spot.
The bug known as Heartbleed, a flaw widely replicated in the main system for encrypting consumers’ online data, is a stark reminder that the Internet is still in its youth, and vulnerable to all sorts of unseen dangers, including simple human error. Today’s digital systems are complex and penetrate every corner of our lives. It is impossible to lock them down.
“Heartbleed is further evidence that we don’t have our house in order when it comes to Internet security,” said Edward Felten, a computer security expert at Princeton University.
In some ways, the tech world today resembles the chaotic, unruly days of other essential industries, including the meatpacking industry depicted in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and the automobile business portrayed in Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed.” While those industries were made safe by a combination of regulation and industrywide cooperation, progress took time, and it came through trial and error.
But it’s not clear that the same solutions will work with technology. We have decided, as a society, to rush headlong into a world ruled by digital devices, continually weighing convenience versus safety. We’re constantly storing more of our important information on more new kinds of hardware run by more complicated software. All of it is increasingly interdependent, which makes the whole ecosystem more vulnerable.
Even though security is an increasing area of concern for large technology companies, it is often considered an afterthought rather than an essential part of building all the goodies we use. Experts say that while instituting a more secure tech culture is possible, it will require a long-term investment in educating software engineers and improving core technologies.
“There’s a level of care in designing systems and sweating the details of their operations that’s missing in the culture of software development,” Mr. Felten said. “We don’t have the kind of safety culture that is common in fields such as aviation.”
That’s because enhanced safety will surely cost consumers in speed, novelty and convenience.
Matthew Green, a professor at Johns Hopkins, said strict standards would require programmers to spend significantly more time testing their work.
“We have standards for coding in mission-critical systems like the airline industry, but I’m not sure we would want those standards applied everywhere,” said Matthew Green, a cryptographer and research professor at Johns Hopkins University. Such strict standards require programmers to spend significantly more time testing their work — and neither technology companies nor consumers can stomach such delays. “I don’t think we want to wait 20 years for the next Google and Facebook,” Mr. Green said.
Like other similar bugs found recently — including one in Apple’s mobile and desktopdevices — the Heartbleed flaw had gone unnoticed for years. As far as researchers can tell, the problem was introduced by a programmer making a routine coding change onNew Year’s Eve in 2011. OpenSSL, the system in which the error was found, is an open-source program, which means that its code resides online and can be amended by anyone. In theory, such code is supposed to be more secure from bugs than a closed system; with enough programmers checking the code, the flaw should have been quickly detected.
But apparently that did not happen. “There just weren’t enough eyeballs on this — and that’s very bad,” Mr. Green said.
One problem might be basic economics. Many huge Internet companies depend on free technologies like OpenSSL to run their systems, but they don’t always return resources to the small teams that create the code. “If we could get $500,000 kicked back to OpenSSL and teams like it, maybe this kind of thing won’t happen again,” Mr. Green said.
Unlike other potentially dangerous corners of modern life, like aviation or health care, the tech industry is unusually volatile. The companies that run the show today will inevitably be usurped by newer ones that offer supposedly better ways of doing things. Such constant upheaval makes industrywide coordination on security more difficult.
“I’m not sure there’s any other industry that handles as much change and as much usage in such a short amount of time,” said Kurt Baumgartner, a researcher at Kaspersky Lab, a digital security firm. Still, Mr. Baumgartner contends that the field is getting better. Compared with the slow, haphazard way that companies once responded to security threats, the industry’s response to Heartbleed was “pretty responsibly coordinated,” he said. Many large companies fixed their services before the problem was disclosed. “On the whole, things have been improving.”
But is it improving enough to keep up with an increasingly determined set of attackers? According to a recent study by Risk Based Security, a threat research firm, there were more than 2,000 data security breaches in 2013. The good news is that the number of intrusions was down from 2012, when more than 3,000 episodes were reported. The bad news is that the smaller number of attacks in 2013 resulted in more damage — about 814 million data records were exposed during the year (including the credit card you used at Target), about twice as many as in any other previous year on record.
The numbers point to another factor that adds to the difficulty in addressing digital threats: Attackers are intelligent, so, frequently, advances in security are matched by advances in attacks. This makes online security a more complicated problem than, say, improving the safety of automobiles.
If you fix one Internet security bug, you can be sure that attackers will just find another, potentially more dangerous one. “Over all, attackers have the competitive advantage,” said Jen Weedon, who works on the threat intelligence team at the security company Mandiant. “Defenders need to defend everything. All attackers need to find is one vulnerability.”
If you aren’t worried enough yet, there’s one more reason to expect digital technology to remain prone to errors. “There’s an underlying process here, which says that as devices get more memory or power, people add more complexity to a product — until it becomes so complicated that it’s too difficult to understand,” Mr. Felten said. That “smart” watch you’re wearing today might not be very complex, but in a few years’ time, smartwatches might run processors that are as powerful as those in today’s laptops.
Companies will create hundreds of apps to take advantage of that power, and you’ll probably install them, because they’ll make your life more convenient or more fun. You’ll pour all your most precious data into your watch. Suddenly, without your noticing it, your watch will have become a target. And among one of those apps will be some threat that no one had anticipated. “As our engineering methods get better, our products get more complicated, so we’re always out at the edge of complexity that our engineering processes can handle,” Mr. Felten said.
Does this mean we’re doomed? Not necessarily; researchers are gratified that large hacks and vulnerabilities are receiving more attention, which might push the industry and consumers to take security more seriously. “Within the past year or so, it’s interesting to see how high-profile these threats have become,” Ms. Weedon said. “Now average people are talking about how to patch their systems. And that’s the best we can hope for, for now.”
但改進的速度足夠快，能抵禦越來越頑固的攻擊者嗎？網絡威脅研究機構Risk Based Security近期的一項研究顯示，2013年發生了2000多起數據安全受到破壞的攻擊事件。好消息是這一數字與2012年的3000多起相比有所下降。但壞消息是，雖然2013年攻擊次數有所減少，但攻擊結果卻更具破壞性——大約8.14億條數據記錄在這一年裡被暴露（包括你在Target超市使用的信用卡信息），大約是有記錄以來過去任何一年的兩倍。