The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 19th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 19th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni




1)          Did The NSA Continue To Stay Silent On Zero-Day Vulnerabilities Even After Discovering It Had Been Hacked?

Once upon a time the NSA would advise companies on security and even help create standards. I strongly believe US companies are “guided” to insert obscure weaknesses in their equipment the NSA can exploit (see item 2). Of course, the Russians, Chinese, and others are not complete idiots so they know those weaknesses are there: they just have to find them. The reason I figure NSA didn’t inform the tech companies is because either they already knew about them or were ignorant they had been installed. I am not sure which is worse.

“The NSA’s exploit stash is allegedly for sale. As mentioned earlier this week, an individual or a group calling themselves Shadow Brokers claims to be auctioning off parts of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) toolkit, containing several zero days — including one in Cisco’s (a favorite NSA TAO target) Adaptive Security Appliance which allows for remote code execution. The thing about these vulnerabilities is that they aren’t new. The exploits being hawked by Shadow Brokers date back to 2013, suggesting the agency has been sitting on these exploits for awhile. The fact that companies affected by them don’t know about these flaws means the NSA hasn’t been passing on this information. Back in 2015, the NSA declared that it passed on information about vulnerabilities to affected companies “90% of the time.” Of course, this statement contained very few details about how long the NSA exploited vulnerabilities before allowing them to be patched.”

2)          Cisco confirms NSA-linked zeroday targeted its firewalls for years

A number of months back Juniper announced a series of “weakness” had been “discovered in its firewalls. There were strong suggestions these were installed by state players. Not coincidentally those announcements were well timed with respect to third party disclosure. Now it is Cisco’s turn: shortly after the announcement that NSA hacking tools were available Cisco announced it has “discovered” a vulnerability in its equipment. I sure they were shocked. They will get around to providing a patch but chances are their gear has other, as yet undisclosed problems, along with the new ones it will introduce in due course. That’s the great thing about a free market: you might not be able to buy equipment secure from spies but you can choose whose spies you want to use.

“Cisco Systems has confirmed that recently-leaked malware tied to the National Security Agency exploited a high-severity vulnerability that had gone undetected for years in every supported version of the company’s Adaptive Security Appliance firewall. The previously unknown flaw makes it possible for remote attackers who have already gained a foothold in a targeted network to gain full control over a firewall, Cisco warned in an advisory published Wednesday. The bug poses a significant risk because it allows attackers to monitor and control all data passing through a vulnerable network. To exploit the vulnerability, an attacker must control a computer already authorized to access the firewall or the firewall must have been misconfigured to omit this standard safeguard.”

3)          Bacteria coaxed to deliver chemo drugs right inside tumours

This is an interesting approach: take magnetotactic bacteria and load it up with chemo drug. Inject close to the tumor and use a magnetic field to direct the bugs toward the spot. It’s a bonus that they also like low oxygen levels such as those around tumor. The short life might be a problem or a feature: you don’t want long lived bacteria crawling around your body. Nevertheless perhaps they can engineer the bugs to last an hour or so, extending their “range”.

“The bacteria were then ready to test on mice with colorectal tumours. The drug-loaded bacteria were injected a few centimetres from the tumour. The researchers used weak magnetic fields to direct the bacteria to the tumour, then relied on the bacteria’s low-oxygen navigation to bring them to the most active part of the tumour. … Once the experiment was over, the researchers examined the tumour under a microscope. Special dyes allowed them to distinguish between the bacteria, the drugs and different regions of the tumour. They found that on average, about 55 per cent of the 100 million bacteria they injected into each mouse made it to the low-oxygen areas of the tumour, they reported in the journal Nature Nanoscience this week.”

4)          Tech IPO Clog Poised to Burst

Time was companies did an IPO because they needed capital to finance their expansion. Maybe that still happens but in the case of “Unicorns” (privately owned tech companies with a valuation of $1B or more) it is because the investors have decided the lamb is ready for slaughter. They want the ability to sell their shares to an unsuspecting public and have individuals fund their losses. You know a deal is a bad deal when the people who know most about a company would rather you buy it from them. Fortunately for “Unicorn” owners investment banks are very polished and investors are very gullible. Stay away.

“Some unicorns like Dropbox may not like what they hear as they start talking to advisers and investors about going public. Dropbox’s similarly named public rival, Box, trades at about four times the company’s expected revenue for next year, according to Bloomberg estimates. The Wall Street Journal last year cited a source who said Dropbox’s revenue was likely to hit $500 million in 2015. If Dropbox’s sales double this year, and do so again in 2017, Dropbox could be valued at about $8 billion at Box’s revenue multiple. If Dropbox does go public at a valuation below its current one, it will have plenty of company. Box did it, too.”

5)          Verizon Offered to Install Marketers’ Apps Directly on Subscribers’ Phones

Crapware installation has become a big business for the PC industry and it is emerging in the wireless device business as well. This isn’t exactly new: “locked” phones have included crapware for some time now. I think Verizon’s rumored pricing is whacko and it seems the market agrees. What is a bit odd is that Verizon has done away with contracts so there is no reason to buy a phone from them. Get an unlocked phone directly from the manufacturer, probably save money, and have less garbage installed on it.

“The wireless carrier has offered to install big brands’ apps on its subscribers’ home screens, potentially delivering millions of downloads, according to agency executives who have considered making such deals for their clients. But that reach would come at a cost: Verizon was seeking between $1 and $2 for each device affected, executives said. Verizon started courting advertisers with app installations late last year, pitching retail and finance brands among others, agency executives said.”

6)          Walabot lets you see inside your walls or floors

As a guy engaged in never ending construction jobs I can see a lot of potential for this gizmo. As near as I can tell it is a radar unit, and, if so, lots of similar product could come on the market and make priced a bit more mainstream. I am a bit skeptical though. Most of the demonstration videos don’t really look like the video they show on the article.

“WalabotDIY is a 3D imaging device that works along with your Android smartphone using an app that is available for download at no cost. Once the app is installed, the device can be used to scan the wall and images are projected onto the screen of the smartphone. The idea is to allow the user to know how far they need to drill or cut to avoid hitting any pipes, wires, or other items inside the walls.”

7)          Why Drones Actually Can’t Deliver Packages to Homes

I am glad somebody finally bothered doing the math. Of course, it could be that gasoline powered drones would be the solution nevertheless I can’t wait for the first fatality associated with a heavy drone dropping from the sky so somebody could get a book a day faster.

“My first investigation was aimed at understanding why the drone flight time was limited to 20 minutes. Being an engineer, I developed the math for it. It is based on a few known characteristics of the current state of technology. Most drones use electric motors and batteries. In my research, I found that a battery typically holds a capacity of 65Wh (Watt-Hour) for every 1 pound of battery weight. The “hover” or cruise speed power requirement for a drone is 100W for every 1 pound of overall weight (drone + batteries + payload), while it requires 200 W/lb to climb or fly at speed. Finally, the power system (motor + speed controller) delivers 1,000W for every 1 pound of drone weight (not including batteries or payload). I checked the performance specifications for many different sizes and manufacturers of electric motors and batteries, and found that the numbers above were very consistent. I don’t want to bore you with the math, so I’ll skip right to the conclusion. When you do the calculations, you find that it results in the following: For a 30-minute flight, a drone’s overall weight (drone + batteries + package) must be 20 times that of the package alone. The batteries’ weight accounts for most of that. For a five-minute flight, the overall weight has to be only 1.5 times that of the package.”

8)          The LTE Apple Watch 2 is dead, but the new model may still have GPS

Well, duh. A big part of a smartphone’s battery consumption is the display but the rest is the radio. The power consumption of the receiver is subject to some Moore’s Law related improvement but the transmitter is pretty much a matter of physics. No kidding you can’t get enough power in a watch sized battery. As for the GPS, well, golly, that would give the Apple Watch the same capability as a wrist mounted Garmin product I had a decade ago.

“That LTE Apple Watch you’ve been wishing for is probably not coming any time soon — but the new version will have GPS tracking as previously rumored, so at least there’s that. According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple ran into trouble with battery life for a version of the incoming Apple Watch 2 with cellular connectivity. All that data transferring decimated the wearable’s small battery.”

9)          Popular Internet of Things Forecast of 50 Billion Devices by 2020 Is Outdated

I wish more people understood that IDC and Gartner are in the business of selling industry research, not making accurate predictions. Selling industry research is predicated on making it sound exciting: no investor or entrepreneur is going to fork over big bucks unless you are forecasting sunny skies and huge growth. The *lowest* forecast for the IoT market I was able to uncover is $4T which is about 22% of the GDP of the US, and fully 4% of global GDP.

“Still, it would seem the practical utility of IoT estimates is limited if they have the potential to be revised by many billions of units. Turner at IDC says such variation and fluidity of these numbers is typical of early estimates focused on nascent markets. The point, he suggests, is to think of the estimates as a general signal, rather than focus on the specific numbers. There are many reasons why projections from different firms may change over time, or simply not match up in the first place. Each company starts with its own definition of IoT and refines its methods over time.”

10)      With SolarCity Cuts, Elon Musk’s Magic May Be Wearing Thin

What I find remarkable is not the content of the article (seriously: no s—t, Sherlock) but that articles like these are becoming more and more common. Some “business plans” revolve around telling louder and ever more elaborate versions of stories people want to hear. Whether the stories are grounded in reality is moot provided investors are willing to provide the money. This works perfectly until it stops working. Once the money supply dries up the whole thing comes crashing down and the first signs the money supply is going to dry up is when people start thinking rationally.

“Musk’s grand vision for an integrated solar-plus-electric-vehicle behemoth, meanwhile, looks increasingly like a reality distortion field. The opening of the massive solar-panel factory the company is building in Buffalo, New York, has already been pushed back to mid-2017. Some analysts have estimated that the factory is likely to lose as much as $150 million a year once it reaches full production. What’s more, there is little indication that huge numbers of people are clamoring for the ability to equip their homes with SolarCity panels, a Tesla Powerwall battery, and a charging system for their Teslas. In short, SolarCity’s latest moves could be a signal that merging two companies with combined 2015 losses of $1.6 billion might not be such a great idea after all.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 12th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 12th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni



1)          A Prayer for Archimedes

Apparently historians no longer refer to the period prior to the enlightenment as the “Dark Ages”. The wholesale destruction of learned texts by people so ignorant of technology they destroyed old books because they didn’t know how to make new ones is not enough to characterize 1000 years of lost opportunity as “Dark”. For what it is worth, historians also like to pretend religious authorities were not “anti-knowledge” back then even though they vigorously oppose almost all scientific progress today. I’m going to stick with the term “Dark Ages”.

“Two of the texts hiding in the prayer book have not appeared in any other copy of Archimedes’s work, so no one but Heiberg had studied them until now. One of them, titled The Method, has special historical significance. It could be considered the earliest known work on calculus. Archimedes wrote The Method almost two thousand years before Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz developed calculus in the 1700s. Reviel Netz, an historian of mathematics at Stanford University who transcribed the text, says that the examination of Archimedes’ work has revealed “a new twist on the entire trajectory of Western mathematics.””

2)          75 Percent of Bluetooth Smart Locks Can Be Hacked

This is yet another example of the pathetic security of most IoT devices. Or course, traditional locks can also be picked but it takes a bit of practice to learn the technique. Nevertheless it isn’t so much the lack of security as the disinterest in vendors in even admitting there is a problem.

“Researcher Anthony Rose, an electrical engineer, said that of 16 Bluetooth smart locks he and fellow researcher Ben Ramsey had tested, 12 locks opened when wirelessly attacked. The locks — including models made by Quicklock, iBlulock, Plantraco, Ceomate, Elecycle, Vians, Okidokey and Mesh Motion — had security vulnerabilities that ranged from ridiculously easy to moderately difficult to exploit. “We figured we’d find vulnerabilities in Bluetooth Low Energy locks, then contact the vendors.  It turned out that the vendors actually don’t care,” Rose said. “We contacted 12 vendors. Only one responded, and they said, ‘We know it’s a problem, but we’re not gonna fix it.'””,news-23129.html

3)          Hacked Bitcoin exchange Bitfinex will reduce balances by 36% to distribute losses amongst all users

If you are going to run an exchange with lousy security you might as well share the losses among the suckers you lure into using it. This is a follow up on the most recent multimillion dollar Bitcoin “hack” (most are likely inside jobs). Rather than taking the hit themselves they’ve decided their customers should pay the piper. Why not? It is a completely unregulated industry.

“Since the exchange used a service to individually segregate each customer’s funds in unique wallets, only some customers’ funds were drained, while others retained their full balances. The question then became would Bitfinex limit losses to only users whose wallets were compromised, or distribute them equally amongst all users (since the attack was essentially indiscriminate amongst random wallets). We now have an answer, as the company has posted that they will distribute losses amongst all users to the tune of 36.067%, which is the total loss experienced by Bitfinex.”

4)          Abundant Robotics spins out of SRI to bring apple-picking robots to the farm

The article and video don’t really tell you much about the machine or its limitations. I suspect not all fruit are easily accessed by the sucker gizmo due to branches. Nevertheless it is credible that a commercially viable machine might emerge from this work. Video:

“Steere said, “Seeing fruit and picking it without damaging it is the big engineering challenge. If you bruise or cut the fruit it loses its value.” According to SRI Ventures President, Manish Kothari, it had not been possible to automate the task of apple picking before recent breakthroughs in computer vision and image processing were made. He said, “You direct this robot to go someplace, see and pick an apple, and go again. It’s a very non-trivial engineering challenge. To detect apples very precisely you have to see down at the millimeter level in real time. That requires software, and on the hardware side, chips that allow you to do real time image processing on the fly.””

5)          Secure Boot snafu: Microsoft leaks backdoor key, firmware flung wide open

Long story short this development is being used as proof of the dangers of backdoors to encryption algorithms. If the backdoor key leaks or is cracked (and knowing there is a back door probably brings you a long way to cracking it) and presto you no longer have security. Given these ease with which NSA has been penetrated there are probably all kinds of foreign operatives working inside it and you can rest assured the Russians or Chinese has ready access to any proposed backdoor.

“Microsoft has inadvertently demonstrated the intrinsic security problem of including a universal backdoor in its software after it accidentally leaked its so-called “golden key”—which allows users to unlock any device that’s supposedly protected by Secure Boot, such as phones and tablets. The key basically allows anyone to bypass the provisions Microsoft has put in place ostensibly to prevent malicious versions of Windows from being installed, on any device running Windows 8.1 and upwards with Secure Boot enabled.”

6)          Researchers orbit a muon around an atom, confirm physics is broken

Unexpected results are the sorts of things which make experimental physicists giddy. In this case they created an artificial atom with a muon, rather than an electron, orbiting the nucleus. The orbital radius turned out to be significantly different from what was predicted by the standard model of physics and that difference could mean a significant revision to theory.

“Their first attempt showed something strange: the value for the radius they got was significantly smaller than the one obtained when you measure using an electron. Remember, the muon and the electron should be equivalent, so there should be no difference. Currently, we have no physics that could explain the difference. The finding had a statistical significance of over five sigma, which is the standard for announcing discovery in physics. Still, it might have been possible to dismiss this as some sort of experimental oddity. Or at least it was until the team gathered even more data, pushing the significance up to over seven sigma. At this point, there was no way around the fact that we have what has become known as the “proton radius puzzle.””

7)          Samsung Debuts 3D XPoint Killer

I wrote about 3D XPoint, the new non-volatile memory technology introduced by Intel and Micron about a year ago. There are still plenty of unanswered questions regarding 3D XPoint, not the least of which is cost. Samsung has provided almost no details regarding its Z-NAND technology but the price range seems good. Samsung has about 50% market share in SSDs so it has a strong incentive to keep ahead of the competition.

“Samsung’s Z-NAND will deliver 10x faster reads than multi-level cell flash and writes that are twice as fast, the company said. At the drive level, they will support both reads and writes at about 20 microseconds, suggesting some of write performance comes from an enhanced controller. …The first drives will have a terabyte capacity. Like today’s high-end SSDs they will draw a full 25W from a PCIe Gen 3 slot to deliver maximum IOPS. Costs will be “a little bit more than standard triple-level cell flash shipping today, but it will be more cost effective than alternative memory technologies,” said Shiah, in a nod to 3D Xpoint.”

8)          Millions of Volkswagens can be broken into with a wireless hack

I would not be surprised if substantially all cars with electronic key systems can be broken in to. The fobs themselves are very simple devices and eavesdropping, even from a distance, should be straightforward. Of course anybody can break into any car just by breaking the window. Actually stealing a car with a electronic key to start it is probably much more difficult.

“Millions of Volkswagens built over the past 20 years can be broken into with a hack that exploits the cars’ remote control key systems, security researchers have found. Most VWs built since 1995 use one of a handful of electronic “master keys” to remotely open and lock the doors, and those keys can be extracted by reverse engineering the firmware, the researchers wrote in a new paper. That alone isn’t enough to break into a car—the master key has to be combined with a unique code generated by each remote key device. But the researchers also devised a way to do that, assembling a piece of radio hardware costing around $40. The radio device eavesdrops on the signal sent from the key fob to the car. Once the signals are decrypted, the researchers were able to make copies of the key fob and open the car door.”

9)          The Next Generation of Wireless — “5G” — Is All Hype.

This is a counterpoint to most of what has been read about 5G. I believe the mistake which is being made is assuming all 5G systems will run at millimeter wave radio which is not the case. Nevertheless, the point about needing fiber is a good one even though microwave backhaul can work in many cases. Absent a competitive infrastructure the technology will remain limited.

“Here’s what you need to understand: “5G” is a marketing term. There is no 5G standard — yet. The International Telecommunications Union plans to have standards ready by 2020. So for the moment “5G” refers to a handful of different kinds of technologies that are predicted, but not guaranteed, to emerge at some point in the next 3 to 7 years. (3GPP, a carrier consortium that will be contributing to the ITU process, said last year that until an actual standard exists, “’5G’ will remain a marketing & industry term that companies will use as they see fit.” At least they’re candid.) At the moment, advertising something as “5G” carries no greater significance than saying it’s “blazing fast” or “next generation” — but because “5G” sounds technical, it’s good for sales. We are a long way away from actual deployment.”

10)      Pay TV Providers Lost 700,000 Subscribers Last Quarter

Consumers with decent broadband now have alternatives to pay TV and cable. Netflix and other streaming services provide a cost effective alternative. Mind you as the article notes the industry’s response has been to continuously raise prices (and though it is not in the article, lower quality). I have zero interest in sports but even ESPN is losing a lot of subscribers ( due mainly to the same phenomenon.

“Moffett has consistently argued that the numbers are actually worse when you factor in how the housing market rebounded without a corresponding spike in pay TV subscriptions, suggesting that when many people move — they aren’t reconnecting traditional cable. Moffett’s research note also took aim at subscriber tracking metrics in a TV industry that hasn’t always been receptive to a candid look at the numbers. “The pay-TV industry is struggling with a measurement problem,” he said. “The most commonly cited numbers are Nielsen’s estimates of cable network subscribers.” “Company-reported numbers are, by contrast, lagged 30 to 90 days (based on the payables from their distributors), making changes in trend a bit harder to discern,” said Moffett. “And Nielsen’s numbers don’t include new OTT distributors like Sling and Sony Vue, which at this point, may represent 800,000 subscribers.””


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 5th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 5th 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni



1)          First Click: Apple should stop selling four-year-old computers

Apple not only sells antique computers, it sells them at a massive premium and that is why they do it: they have convinced people they are technology leaders (they aren’t) and people are willing to pay up for old, cheap technology. This means great margins and low R&D costs. Eventually the chickens will come home to roost.

“But that doesn’t mean it isn’t unconscionable for Apple to continue to sell outdated products to people who may not know any better. Is the company really saving that much money by using 2012 processors and 4GB of RAM as standard? Even an update to Intel’s Haswell chips from 2013 would have brought huge battery life improvements. Apple is bound by the whims of its suppliers to a certain extent, and it may not always make sense for the company to upgrade its products with every single new chip or GPU that comes out. But there’s a certain point at which it just starts to look like absentmindedness, and many Mac computers are well past that point now.”

2)          Google Self-Driving Car Exec Talks Fatal Tesla Crash

The comments regarding the responsibility of the driver are apt, especially since Google continues to test cars themselves and any other comment would lead to liability if they said otherwise. Nevertheless what it is important are the comments below: drivers need special training to use experimental AV technology and a simple “I agree” is not enough.

““Back in 2012 we had a technology that was very similar. We let Google employees test it, after lengthy training sessions imploring them to pay attention at all times. We wanted to see how they were interacting with the technology. After three months we saw enough to say this is definitely a problem. People would take their eyes off the road for some period, look down at their phones and start texting while in the driver’s seat. Turning around to the back to get their laptop because they needed to plug their phone in. Right? When you’re hurtling down the road at 60 miles an hour in a two-ton vehicle? “That takes us to the fundamental conundrum of the L2 semi-autonomous solutions: As they get better and better, but not quite good enough for humans to zone out entirely, then risk increases. So we need to take the human out of the loop. With L4, which is our focus at Google, the idea is, you don’t need a steering wheel or controls because we’re going to take care of everything, and you just have to say, “I want to go to that destination,” and the car will take you there.””

3)          Bitcoin Bitfinex exchange hacked: the unanswered questions

Saying a bitcoin exchange has been “hacked” is a bit like saying Tony Soprano’s bank has been robbed. There is not regulatory structure for bitcoin exchanges and it is not even clear “stealing” bitcoin is illegal. There is good reason to believe many “hacks” were basically inside jobs. Better yet, despite the purported security of bitcoin, no “hacked” bitcoin has ever been recovered and no “hacker” ever been caught or prosecuted.

“The Hong Kong-based Bitfinex exchange was hacked this week in a security breach that drained 119,756 bitcoins from its customer accounts. The sum is believed to represent a significant proportion of the exchange’s bitcoin assets, with the stolen coins totalling 0.8 per cent of all bitcoins in circulation. … As yet, it is unclear how the hacker was able to compromise the multi-signature system, though some suggest the cosigning process may have been overly dependent on automated signoffs on transactions below a certain value threshold. Nevertheless, some legal experts say because the funds were technically segregated this will have reduced Bitfinex’s overall customer liability.”

4)          The chip card transition in the US has been a disaster

From a distance the wailing and gnashing of teeth associated with the US transition to chip cards is pretty amusing. After all this is something the rest of the world seems to have managed without hysterics. Despite what the article says they are, in fact, faster, more secure, and better for consumers. The silly comment about smartphone alternatives is telling: I like to dazzle my American friends by using my credit card “touch” wireless payment whenever possible. I believe that is supposed to be introduced in the US by 2050 …

“Over the last year or so in the US, a lot of the plastic credit cards we carry around every day have been replaced by new one with chips embedded in them. The chips are supposed to make your credit and debit cards more secure—a good thing!—but there’s one little secret no one wants to admit: The US’s transition to chip cards has been an utter disaster. They’re confusing to use, painstakingly slow, less secure than the alternatives, and aren’t even the best solution for consumers.”

5)          Digital Canada 150: Like ‘Broadband Britain’ but even worse

It is worth noting that 20 to 25 years ago Canada had a globally competitive telecommunications infrastructure. At the time we were also hosts to globally competitive telecommunications equipment companies like Nortel, Newbridge, Gandalf, RIM, and many others. About 15 years of corrupt regulation (I prefer to believe our politicians are corrupt rather than stupid) has pushed our infrastructure to 3rd world status and, unsurprisingly, there is not a single noteworthy telecom technology company in the country. It’s rather odd that size is given as the problem: but I don’t think the country was so much smaller when electric and telephone infrastructure was being build. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“Here at TelecomTV we might, indeed we do, moan about the government’s plan for “Broadband Britain”. Over the years (far too many of them) much has been promised but delivery has been sporadic and partial, coverage piecemeal and the entire programme has been characterised by a lack of real forward-thinking, coherent planning and, all-in-all, has demonstrated a paucity of imagination and limited determination. But, then you look around and see that there’s always someone worse off than yourself. Just take a shufti at broadband Internet services in Canada. Examination of the state of Internet broadband there is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope and back in time to an era long past in Europe.”

6)          Why Internet Speeds Leave Americans Lagging

The US and Canada have abysmal broadband and mobile but they arrived at that position through different paths in particular in the US there are actual statutory barriers to competition in many areas. The root problem in both cases is simply that there is no competition and plenty of obstacles to competition. That keeps the carriers fat dumb and happy: at least until something changes.

“This isn’t just a mild annoyance while you’re watching Netflix. It is a serious problem for productivity with long-term implications for economic performance and American competitiveness. Businesses, hospitals, and schools all rely on the internet. Slower speeds mean none of them are operating as efficiently as is possible. To add insult to injury, Americans pay more for less; internet access is more expensive in America than in many countries with faster speeds. There are two main reasons this is the case: the inferior physical infrastructure of America’s internet, and the oligarchy of internet service providers (ISPs) that control it.”

7)          Federal government’s one-website project proving costly — and confusing

While governments enact policies which ensure broadband is expensive and of poor quality they enrich consultants by trying to move as many things as possible onto the Internet. This makes it harder and harder for some citizens to access government services: a happy outcome if you are the government. The debacle they describe is not unusual: this is the same institution which spend billions on a long gun registry a reasonable competent team could have developed for less than one percent of the final cost. Thanks again to Nick Tang for this article.

“The government’s bid to unify all of its departments under a web address is increasing workloads and pushing at least one federal department over budget, raising questions about the implementation of the project.”

8)          The Ransomware Epidemic Is Growing and Hurting a Lot of Businesses

Malwarebytes is not exactly a neutral party here but it does seem to be the case that ransomware is a growing problem. The article does point to the fact that traditional approaches to network security simply no longer work. Thanks to Tony Patterson for this item.

“Almost two-fifths of businesses in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Germany have been hit in the last year by a ransomware attack, according to a survey by security firm Malwarebytes. Even bearing in mind that Malwarebytes is not coming at this from a neutral standpoint—it sells defenses against ransomware—the results of its survey are startling. The company found that nearly 80% of U.S. companies suffered a cyberattack of some kind in the last year, with 47% experiencing a “ransomware incident.””

9)          Does dropping malicious USB sticks really work? Yes, worryingly well…

It turns out that many computer security breaches are the result of social engineering rather than complex technical feats. People do open email attachments and, what is more natural upon finding a USB key than to plug it in to your computer?

“Plugging in that USB stick you found lying around on the street outside your office could lead to a security breach. This is no secret, of course. We have all (hopefully) been aware of the dangers of inserting an unknown USB device into our computers for some time. Heck, the technique has even made it into the Mr Robot TV series. But what may not be widely known is just how successful the tactic can be for allowing hackers to compromise your computer systems. Research presented this week at BlackHat by Elie Bursztein of Google’s anti-abuse research team shows that the danger is alarmingly real …”

10)      Frequent password changes are the enemy of security, FTC technologist says

Frankly I think frequent password changes are nonsense, more or less for the reasons outlined in the article: people can’t remember a large assortment of truly random passwords so they adapt mnemonic schemes to cope. Humans are humans so the mnemonic schemes tend to be similar, which makes cracking the password much easier. If your old password was 11Hello2016, chances are your next password will be 12Hello2016.

“Shortly after Carnegie Mellon University professor Lorrie Cranor became chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission in January, she was surprised by an official agency tweet that echoed some oft-repeated security advice. It read: “Encourage your loved ones to change passwords often, making them long, strong, and unique.” Cranor wasted no time challenging it. … For one, a growing body of research suggests that frequent password changes make security worse. As if repeating advice that’s based more on superstition than hard data wasn’t bad enough, the tweet was even more annoying because all six of the government passwords she used had to be changed every 60 days.”

11)      Their time has come. A new type of electrical cell may displace the lithium-ion design

It has been a few months since the last world-changing battery announcement came out. To reiterate there are many parameters which much be optimized for a battery to be commercially successful and articles such as these tend to highlight just one. Either way the comments about lithium ion are telling: it isn’t progressing as much as some stock promoters would have you believe.

“The fundamental idea behind Dr Li’s device is not new. It is a version of what is known as a lithium-air battery, something that has been a desideratum of energy-storage research since the 1970s. In theory, such batteries could hold more than four times the energy per kilogram of lithium-ion batteries. Building them, though, has proved taxing. As their name suggests, they draw in air. The part they need is the oxygen, but other atmospheric components—water vapour and carbon dioxide in particular—often damage them.”

12)      IBM creates world’s first artificial phase-change neurons

As the name implies neural networks are similar to the circuits that make up the important parts of the brain. Like brains they have the potential to be very good at recognizing patterns and self-learning but artificial neural networks have been very hard to construct and program. Like a lot of IBM’s research it is not that clear whether this will ever get to market.

“IBM Research in Zurich has created the world’s first artificial nanoscale stochastic phase-change neurons. IBM has already created a population of 500 of these artificial neurons and used them to process a signal in a brain-like (neuromorphic) way. This breakthrough is particularly notable because the phase-change neurons are fashioned out of well-understood materials that can scale down to a few nanometres, and because they are capable of firing at high speed but with low energy requirements. Also important is the neurons’ stochasticity—that is, their ability to always produce slightly different, random results, like biological neurons.”

13)      Blackberry enters a new era, files 105-page patent lawsuit against Avaya

Ah, Blackberry I knew you when you were rich and famous. Avaya has been in business a very long time and almost certainly has a mountain of patents. They will just countersue.

“In making its case that Avaya should pay royalties, BlackBerry’s focus is squarely on its rear-view mirror. The firm argues that it should be paid for its history of innovation going back nearly 20 years. “BlackBerry revolutionized the mobile industry,” the company’s lawyers wrote in their complaint. “BlackBerry… has invented a broad array of new technologies that cover everything from enhanced security and cryptographic techniques, to mobile device user interfaces, to communication servers, and many other areas.””

14)      Samsung explains how the Galaxy Note 7 iris scanner works

It can be harder to spoof an iris reader than a fingerprint scanner so the idea might be a good one if you care that much about privacy while storing all your data in the cloud and having your every move tracked by Google and Facebook. The article doesn’t mention what the video does: it may not work reliably if you wear glasses or contacts. Removing glasses is easy, contacts not so much.

“The just released Galaxy Note 7 has become the first handset from Samsung to feature iris scanning technology, which could possibly pave the way for the company to do away with other security methods, such as PIN, pattern, simple swipe, and even fingerprint, even if that is quite unlikely. With iris scanning arriving in the Galaxy Note 7, you don’t need to touch the device to verify your identity and can access the phone by just looking at the screen. Our tests with the iris scanner in the were pretty positive, particularly given the number of times we have seen the same security feature in other devices failing to respond, or proving unreliable.”

15)      Good news—the robocalling scourge may not be unstoppable after all

I suspect dealing with robocalls would be pretty easy by applying big data techniques inside the telephone companies. A sudden increase in the number of automated calls (you can tell from the delay between answer and voice) from a non-whitelisted source and you are done. I really admire the technology they used in this study.

“Pindrop researchers reached the conclusion by creating a security honeypot of phone numbers that received more than 1 million robocalls. The researchers transcribed about 10 percent of the calls and analyzed the semantics with machine-learning techniques to isolate identical scams. The researchers combined those results with analysis that tracked 150 different audio features of each call. By studying the codecs, packet loss, spectrum, and frequency inside the audio and combining the results with the machine learning, the researchers were able to obtain a fingerprint of each different call center.”

16)      MIT and DARPA Pack Lidar Sensor onto Single Chip

Lidar sensors are very expensive but there is no real reason that will remain the case for long. The same used to be true regarding scanning laser levels and those are much cheaper today. This is an interesting approach but don’t get carried away – the technology is inherently limited due to the small size and probably explains the very limited range. Nonetheless, it might be useful for robotics.

“Our lidar chips are produced on 300-millimeter wafers, making their potential production cost on the order of $10 each at production volumes of millions of units per year. These on-chip devices promise to be orders of magnitude smaller, lighter, and cheaper than lidar systems available on the market today. They also have the potential to be much more robust because of the lack of moving parts. The non-mechanical beam steering in this device is 1,000 times faster than what is currently achieved in mechanical lidar systems, and potentially allows for an even faster image scan rate. This can be useful for accurately tracking small high-speed objects that are only in the lidar’s field of view for a short amount of time, which could be important for obstacle avoidance for high-speed UAVs.”

17)      Is NAND Shortage Going to Effect SSDs?

The hard disk industry seems to believe that NAND shortages will save their disruption by Soli State Drives. As this brief article points out, capacity will go to making SSDs instead of other low margin flash devices. Meanwhile the industry is rapidly ramping up capacity and SSD prices will plumet.

“As we all have seen in the past, price takedowns for SSDs (and thus NAND) have outpaced the actual cost takedowns that these vendors have been dealing with. However, this latest tightness in NAND supply (mainly as a result of 3D NAND delays and a transition to higher capacities in smart phones) should not have to much effect on the system OEM based SSD market, but rather the lower end consumer type devices taking NAND (think thumb drives, eMMC, etc.)”

18)      Mossberg: TVs are still too complicated, and it’s not your fault

Sorry but anybody who buys electronics from Best Buy gets no sympathy from me. For the most part this sounds like somebody who would shout “get off my lawn” at any moment. At the end of the day basic functionality is easy to set up and more obscure functions are harder to set up. That’s pretty much how everything works.

“The next day I headed for Best Buy with my grown son, who was being good to his dad, because like many in his generation (including his brother), he cares roughly zero about costly TVs. In the store, two sales people who helped us were nice, but not very informative. They knew little about how to compare among brands, except to rave about the costliest one (LG). And it took them multiple tries on multiple TVs to demo the streaming app menu for us — even after they had turned off the store demo mode. They couldn’t actually demo the streaming apps themselves. They falsely claimed that the sound would be very weak unless we bought an expensive sound bar.”

19)      Intel issues total recall for fitness tracker that could burn, blister your wrist

I didn’t even know Intel was in this particular gadget market. You have to wonder what sort of strategic thinking figured that a fitness tracker would be a good market to be in if you are already the de facto standard for PC CPUs. Oh well. It turns out the thing can hurt you so the net benefit to health isn’t necessarily positive. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“TECH giant Intel has today issued a total recall for an activity tracker that it warns could burn and blister arms, admitting the problem was something it cannot fix. A few weeks ago, the Intel-owned Basis company stopped sales on the Peak smartwatch that some reviews described as “the best activity tracker yet” when it was released. But today it has taken the major step of not only issuing a total recall for the product but it is also closing down the online service that lets people synch their fitness data in an effort to ensure people stop wearing the potentially dangerous device.”

20)      Scientists say hoped-for physics particle was just a blip

Well it was fun while it lasted. For a brief moment the physics world was a twitter about an unexpected result which meant a potential rewrite of the standard model. It was all a blip. Never mind.

“This bump, at an energy of 750 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), would have been six times heavier than the famous Higgs Boson particle, which gives items mass and was discovered in 2012. But following much speculation and many leaks to social media, scientists announced at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Chicago that indeed, there was no actual bump in either of two experiments, one dubbed Atlas and the other CMS. “The intriguing hint of a possible resonance at 750 GeV decaying into photon pairs, which caused considerable interest from the 2015 data, has not reappeared in the much larger 2016 data set and thus appears to be a statistical fluctuation,” said a statement from CERN.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 29th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 29th 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni



1)          Transistors Will Stop Shrinking in 2021, Moore’s Law Roadmap Predicts

It looks like the gig is up, sort of, for Moore’s Law. There are lower bounds to transistor size but it seems the major limitation is capital, which makes sense for an industry which is no longer growing. Transistors will continue to get smaller, albeit much more slowly, and, as the article notes, the focus will be on 3 dimensional chips. Moving into 3 dimensions poses its own challenges however as outer layers will serve as insulation for inner layers which will present some power issues. From a financial perspective the challenge will be that the economics of the industry will change from 30% annual deflation to a much lower rate and that will impact all kinds of investment decisions.

“After more than 50 years of miniaturization, the transistor could stop shrinking in just five years. That is the prediction of the 2015 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, which was officially released earlier this month. After 2021, the report forecasts, it will no longer be economically desirable for companies to continue to shrink the dimensions of transistors in microprocessors. Instead, chip manufacturers will turn to other means of boosting density, namely turning the transistor from a horizontal to a vertical geometry and building multiple layers of circuitry, one on top of another.”

2)          3D NAND Flash at 2 Cents per GB

The article itself is very interesting because it explains the state of the art with respect to 3D NAND. This company’s claim to fame is not a new memory type or cutting edge processing but simply a different approach to making a 3D flash device. Time will tell whether it can deliver but if the claims are even partly achievable the impact on the memory industry will be profound and hasten the demise of the Hard Disk Drive industry.

“The inventor of 3D monolithic chip technology back in 2010, BeSang Inc. (Beaverton, Ore.), claims to have since created a superior three-dimensional (3D) architecture for NAND flash. Frustrated with licensee Hynix’s slow implementation of its monolithic 3D technology, BeSang is opening the door to partnerships with other memory houses, as well as offering to contract-fab the chips for resale by others, at a price that reduces the cost-per-bit of 3D NAND from over 20¢ to about 2¢ per gigabyte.”

3)          Google updates Nexus phones with spam call protection

Mobile phone spam is a rising problem and the solution is quite simple: as soon as someone answers the phone they can flag a number as from a smaller and once that happens enough the phones can identify it as such to the user. The root problem lies with the telephone service providers who profit from the spammers as well as from other telephone related fraud.

“The FCC gets more complaints over spam calls than anything else, and recently told telecom companies to block them for free. Until that happens, Google has made it easier for Nexus or AndroidOne device owners to see if a call is spam and block it, thanks to an update to its phone app. If you have caller ID enabled on those devices, spam or robo-calls will pop up with a red screen and warning that says “suspected spam caller.” After taking or rejecting the call, you can either block the number or report that it’s legit if Google flagged it in error.”

4)          The Internet Of Things Is a Security And Privacy Dumpster Fire And The Check Is About To Come Due

This pretty much hits the nail on the head: IoT devices are slapped together by consumer electronics companies who typically lack expertise in computer security. Security is hard and the relevant talents are rare so the net result is no security. It isn’t like you should worry about somebody setting your thermostat for you but that your thermostat might be sending your banking information somewhere.

“And while mocking the internet of things has become a running joke, Schneier notes it quickly becomes less funny when you begin to realize that the interconnected nature of all of these devices means we’re introducing millions of new attack vectors daily in homes, businesses, utilities, and government agencies all over the world. Collectively these flaws will, no hyperbole intended, inevitably result in significant deaths …”

5)          No treat for you: pets miss meals after auto-feeding app PetNet glitches

The other challenge with IoT is that the systems typically require access to the cloud in order to function. This company’s servers went down and that took their product off line. It appears there is a fall back timer so the critter don’t starve to death, but for a pet owner knowing whether the animals have been fed can be stressful and probably a major reason for buying the product.

“It is a cautionary tale for the rise of the so-called “internet of things”: some pets could be left hungry after a server outage appeared to be causing automated feeders made by a company called PetNet to malfunction. The lesson: always build a backup system. PetNet describes itself as “the world’s first intelligent pet feeder that will program itself around your life and the wellness of your pet. The $149 device links to a smartphone app so that, in theory, customers could rest assured that their pet was well fed while they weren’t home. But a server issue has taken down the system for a number of users, leaving many animals without their scheduled meals.”

6)          Nintendo shares plummet after investors realize it doesn’t actually make Pokémon Go

Apparently, Pokemon Go is a popular game which has swept mobile users. The relationship between Nintendo (which owns the Pokemon franchise) and the game developer was well known public information. That didn’t stop Nintendo’s stock from dramatically increasing in value – at least until Nintendo reminded everybody it wasn’t that financially material for them. This kind of puts the whole “efficient markets hypothesis” to rest, doesn’t it?

“It appears that Nintendo’s huge stock bump, which took the company past Sony in market capitalization, was fueled by investors with the misguided belief that Pokémon is wholly a Nintendo creation and that the company would benefit accordingly. Nothing that Nintendo said in its announcement on Friday was new information — there isn’t a Nintendo logo to be found anywhere within Pokémon Go itself, and the status of the game’s ownership has been clear since it was announced last year.”

7)          Bitcoin’s not money, judge rules as she tosses money-laundering charge

I have to admit I am not sure I follow the judge’s reasoning here: you can be charged with money laundering if you use diamonds or large cases of oatmeal as the exchange mechanism so the question of whether or not Bitcoin is money is rather moot. Oddly Bitcoin proponents are hailing this as a victory even though, if it turns out to be true, it equally makes theft of Bitcoin completely legal and makes any contract or agreement involving Bitcoin unenforceable.

“The sting was designed to catch Espinoza, then 30 of Miami, laundering money. Florida law prohibits using financial transactions to “promote” illicit activity, such as, in this case, credit-card fraud. Ultimately, Arias arrested Espinoza on three felony counts of money laundering, capping a three-month investigation in 2014 into South Florida’s exchange of computerized money. But a Florida circuit-court judge ruled Monday that bitcoin is not money at all. And if you don’t have money, you can’t exactly launder it.”

8)          Can the internet reboot Africa?

It seems that a modern economy requires three things: rule of law, energy, and free flow of information. Unfortunately rule of law is not that strong in Africa and energy is often spotty in a lot of the continent. What is happening is the spread of Internet and mobile technologies and that may have a profound long term impact on the development of Africa.

“Such are the giddy promises of Africa’s “fourth industrial revolution” – a giant step forward into the digital world which the Guardian is reporting on for the next two weeks. Some are salivating that it will amount to the renaissance of a marginalised continent, while others soberly warn of the hype. By 2020 there will be more than 700m smartphone connections in Africa – more than twice the projected number in North America and not far from the total in Europe, according to GSMA, an association of mobile phone operators. In Nigeria alone 16 smartphones are sold every minute, while mobile data traffic across Africa is set to increase 15-fold by 2020.”

9)          Mobileye Falls After Saying It Won’t Extend Work With Tesla

Mobileye is the company which supplies the technology behind Tesla’s “Autopilot”. If you read between the lines Mobileye is concerned there will be reputational damage done to it and the industry if it continues to collaborate with Tesla’s aggressive R&D programs.

“Mobileye supplies cameras and technology for Tesla’s Model S sedans, including machine learning capabilities for its Autopilot suite of features. That function was at the center of a debate over the safety of driver-assist capabilities this month after Tesla said U.S. regulators were investigating a fatal accident involving a Model S that was driving on Autopilot. Fully autonomous driving requires a “paradigm shift” in terms of complexity and the “need to ensure an extremely high level of safety,” Shashua told investors on the call. “There is much at stake here, to Mobileye’s reputation and to the industry at large,” he said. “We think that that’s not in the interest of Mobileye to continue with Tesla in that area.””

10)      Elon Musk’s push for autopilot unnerves some Tesla employees

This story directly relates to the item above. Engineers are not soulless and they understand that sometimes their efforts can lead to injury or death. Consider the Challenger disaster, which largely occurred because NASA management ignored explicit warnings from technical staff of the risks of flying that day. The same could be said for deaths due to General Motors’ defective key switch. “The perfect” is exactly what you need, or as close to it, when human lives are involved.

“Even before Tesla reported the first known death of a driver using its autopilot feature, some employees worried the car company wasn’t taking every possible precaution. Those building autopilot were acutely aware that any shortcoming or unforeseen flaw could lead to injury or death — whether it be blind spots with the car’s sensors or drivers misusing the technology. But Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk believes that autopilot has the potential to save lives by reducing human error — and has pushed hard to get the feature to market. The team’s motto is “not to let the perfect be the enemy of the better,” according to a source close to Tesla. For Musk specifically, the source says his driving force is “don’t let concerns slow progress.””

11)      Infographic: Tesla’s gigafactory opens this week: What we know in 9 epic slides

Tesla made a big propaganda push over its battery factory this week, probably to distract attention from its quarterly results which are coming out next week. Most of the coverage I have seen appears to be written by people who have never been inside a modern factory. Long story short, there is a reason vertical integration is an obsolete business model. Thanks to my friend Fran Manns for this item.

“Tesla recently stated that its current battery cost is $190 per kWh for the Model S. The Gigafactory aims to reduce battery costs by 30%. Tesla expects this to happen through vertical integration, adding economies of scale, reducing waste, optimizing processes, and tidying up the supply chain.”

12)      Tesla, IBM, Stanford, & PNNL Lead Obama’s Battery500 EV Battery Initiative

This is not another Tesla story but an exploration of the poor quality of information surrounding battery or any other “green” technology. If I want to know the price history of a 74LS00 quad NAND I can go through old catalogs and even call up distributors to get the current price. I can do pretty much the same thing for steel, Ikea furniture, or Beijing Duck. “Green” proponents of the battery industry (as distinct from folks in the battery industry who actually know things) rely on pricing models, anecdotes, and the tall tales of stock promoters to determine what prices are. Shouldn’t they just pick up the telephone and get some real data?

“Coming back to historical battery prices and how they’ve dropped in recent years, below a graph I love (from our “Electric Car Answers” page). It was originally published in 2015 as part of a study of battery price trends up through 2014 (the stidy was published in the journal Nature Climate Change), and revised it slightly in May 2016.”

13)      Deutsche Telekom and BMW edge towards the truly connected car

Although the “connected car” could be a big deal for safety as cars could communicate things like rapid braking, loss of traction, etc., to other on the road, this article is not about that. For some reason DT and BMW have decided cars would make good femotcells. I am not sure why because they would still need some form of backhaul and so if a car can’t get reception why would it make a good femtocell? Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“So far, so good, and this probably qualifies as a “quite interesting” development, especially for passengers. But there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. About 18 months ago, BMW was conducting trials with Nokia, Huawei and Vodafone that focused on integrating LTE base stations into their cars. The idea was that they would create a network of LTE small cells – not just for the benefit of the driver and passenger, but available for use by people and devices along the roadside. However, the caveat was that these car-mounted small cells would only operate when the vehicle was parked up and stationary.”

14)      You can’t turn off Cortana in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

This news swept the interwebs and created pandemonium. Even I got upset as I find things like Cortana an annoying distraction. Never let facts get in the way of a good story so see the next item.

“Microsoft made an interesting decision with Windows 10’s Anniversary Update, which is now in its final stages of development before it rolls out on August 2. Cortana, the personal digital assistant that replaced Windows 10’s search function and taps into Bing’s servers to answer your queries with contextual awareness, no longer has an off switch.”

15)      Yes, you can turn Cortana off in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

It turns out that you can, in fact turn off this annoying bit of Windows 10 after all.

“Now, in fairness, Microsoft did change some things around. The criticism that an “off switch” for Cortana is removed is technically correct and likely where much of the misinformation originates. But there is a reason for this too, which is a change in the structure of Cortana and it being a service on iOS and Android.”

16)      How to Persuade Consumers to Disable Ad Blockers

I think the things outlined below would help convince some people to disable their ad blockers but I suspect ensuring ads do not contain malware (which is disturbingly common) or are fraudulent (like the majority of mobile ads) would be a more important step. Oddly enough those are not mentioned.

“The research report, titled “Ad Blocking: Who Blocks Ads, Why, and How to Win Them Back,” was conducted on the IAB’s behalf by C3Research. Based on its findings, the IAB said the most effective ways publishers can convince consumers to disable ad blockers include limiting access to content for ad-blocking visitors, avoiding ads with autoplay video or autoplay sound, ensuring ads don’t block access to content, and “guaranteeing” that ads don’t slow down their websites.”

17)      Android to Send Location Data to First Responders

You would think that if a phone can tell you which street to walk down it would be pretty straightforward for emergency responders to find you. Apparently, not so much. The issue is most likely the state of the technology at the emergency call side of things as many of those systems haven’t been updated in decades. The comment “… (your) location is never seen or handled by Google” is pretty rich. Google knows everywhere you’ve been,, where you sleep, where you work, where you shop, etc..

“In fact, more than 99 percent of Android handsets—any device running Android 2.3 or later—already support this capability, using Wi-Fi and cellular tower triangulation to capture its precise location. Google is working with mobile network operators and emergency dispatch centers to add support on the receiving end. The UK and Estonia are the first two countries to get the emergency location notifications, with the feature going live there yesterday on some networks, including Vodafone and O2. Google has also partnered with the European Emergency Number Association, which coordinates emergency services across the continent.”

18)      Stiglitz Calls Apple’s Profit Reporting in Ireland ‘a Fraud’

The Nobel Prize in economics is pretty much a made up thing, but, seriously, it doesn’t take a Nobel Prize in economics to call a scam a scam, especially when it involves transfer pricing. Transfer pricing fraud used to be taught in introductory accounting courses so it really isn’t that hard to spot. The problem is not the law but a complete lack of interest in enforcing it: that’s what you get when money is speech.

“Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz said U.S. tax law that allows Apple Inc. to hold a large amount of cash abroad is “obviously deficient” and called the company’s attribution of significant earnings to a comparatively small overseas unit a “fraud.” “Our current tax system encourages companies to keep their money abroad, opens up a vast loophole through what is called the transfer-pricing system that allows them not only to keep their money abroad but, effectively, to escape taxation,” Stiglitz, who advises Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Tom Keene.”

19)      You Can Get a 3-D-Printed Cast for a Broken Bone

Medical applications are a high value opportunity for 3D printing. The manufacture of 3D printed casts should be easy enough to automate. I figure they put on a regular cast first then give you a 3D printed one later. The cost isn’t that bad considering how ridiculous cost for medical devices are in any case: I spent $180 to pay for an “air cast” when I had my leg fixed up and eyeglasses cost about 50x what it costs to manufacture them.

“But casts are finally getting a modern spin. 3-D-printed casts boast an open-lattice plastic design that’s customized to the individual patient. They’re waterproof, they’re more comfortable, and they may even help the bones heal faster. The casts are part of a larger movement toward personalized 3-D-printed medical devices. A number of startups around the world are working on this new technology. Earlier this year, engineering student Zaid Musa Badwan founded MediPrint in Mexico to manufacture the NovaCast he and colleagues designed, and a few weeks ago Xkelet, based in Girona, Spain, won a Red Dot Design Award (awarded in a prestigious international design competition) for its cast.”

20)      Australia plans new co-ordinates to fix sat-nav gap

The story here is that Australia is a moving target so GPS – which provides absolute coordinates – is fairly quickly wrong. A meter or two matters for some applications like autonomous vehicles. If the GPS system weren’t antiquated technology it could probably beam out a “your continent has moved” correction factor along with location information and keep the data always up to date.

“”We have tractors in Australia starting to go around farms without a driver, and if the information about the farm doesn’t line up with the co-ordinates coming out of the navigation system there will be problems.” The Geocentric Datum of Australia, the country’s local co-ordinate system, was last updated in 1994. Since then, Australia has moved about 1.5 meters north. So on 1 January 2017, the country’s local co-ordinates will also be shifted further north – by 1.8m. The over-correction means Australia’s local co-ordinates and the Earth’s global co-ordinates will align in 2020.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 22nd 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 22nd 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni



1)          Solar power: Bill shock looms as lucrative tariffs roll back, advocates warn

There is no greater tragedy than the when a group loses its subsidies. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand that solar subsidies are not consistent with widespread adoption of solar power. Think of it this way: if you subsidize solar power by $0.20/kWhr for a total of $0.28/kWhr, the more solar power you have the closer you get to having everybody effectively pay for $0.28/kWhr for electricity. This has a particular impact on the folks who don’t live in single dwellings and who can’t benefit from the subsidy but do pay for the more expensive electricity. Unsurprisingly these people tend to already be poor. The industry’s outrage also seems to be at odds with claims solar is getting cheaper and cheaper: if that is the case why are subsidies needed?

“Thousands of Australians will be hit by electricity bill shock of about $1,500 when generous solar feed-in tariffs are rolled back in coming months, consumer advocates have warned. The tariffs were introduced for a set period to kickstart Australia’s uptake of rooftop solar by offering money to solar users who fed energy back into the grid. More than 275,000 households will be affected when the tariffs are unwound from September to January in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.”

2)          Google boasts quantum computing breakthrough with first display of real-world use

I’ve written a number of times in the past that a quantum computer hasn’t yet solved a commercially relevant problem more cost effectively than a classical computer of the same cost. That seems to have changed with this announcement as the researchers have managed to model quantum behavior with this technique and this might end up to be a big deal at understanding chemistry on a quantum level. Note that the research does not involve D-Wave, a company often cited a leader in the space.

“US and UK scientists have teamed up with Google to successfully demonstrate the first ever completely scalable quantum simulation of a chemical reaction, showcasing a real-world use for quantum computers which could revolutionise multiple areas of research into medicine and materials. Researchers from Google, Harvard University, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, Tufts University, UC Santa Barbara and University College London have successfully managed to use a quantum computer to simulate a hydrogen molecule, which would be the first step towards simulating entire chemical systems.”

3)          Scientists may be on the verge of smashing the Standard Model of particle physics

This could be a very big deal: as exciting as the confirmation of the Higgs Boson was it was something of a disappointment since it simply confirmed the Standard Model of physics. What scientists really hope for are unexpected results such as the one hinted at by this article. Unexpected results can lead to entirely an new understanding of physics and lead to practical advances.

“Data obtained from experiments conducted through last year indicates the possible existence of a new particle with roughly six times the mass of the Higgs boson. In tests this year — which began in May — the facility will try to determine whether or not the particle actually exists. While a number of theories have already emerged to explain the nature of this particle, its mere existence, if proven, could rewrite the existing standard theory of elementary particles.”

4)          IDC: Smartwatch shipments fall for the first time; Apple only company in top 5 to decline

Go figure: the demand for heavy, bulky, wristwatch replacements that require daily charging is dropping. The only practical use of smartwatches I’ve seen is to show off the fact you have a smartwatch.

“The smartwatch market has hit its first bump, and it’s all Apple’s fault. Vendors shipped a total of 3.5 million smartwatches worldwide last quarter. This Q2 2016 figure is down 32 percent from the 5.1 million units shipped in Q2 2016, marking the first decline on record. It’s important to note that smartwatches are just a subcategory of the larger wearable market. As such, these figures don’t count basic bands sold by companies like Fitbit. Apple is thus the undisputed leader, even after the losses it saw in Q2 2016, and it could easily see a return to growth with the release of Watch OS 2.0. The latest quarterly figures come from IDC, which summarized its findings in the following chart:”

5)          Apple proposes higher royalty rates for music streaming rivals

This is a brilliant strategic move by Apple. By proposing higher royalty rates, which it uniquely than afford, it can drive all its streaming music competitors out of business. “Artists” are hailing the move as they have lamented low streaming royalties (which are significantly higher than what they get for radio) for some time. Of course if Apple is successful all it will do is increase piracy and transfer even more control over culture to them.

“The new rates, if adopted, would drastically alter how songwriting rates are decided, how much artists receive, and how costly it is to operate in the streaming business. As it stands, companies like Spotify, Google, and Pandora pay out royalties according to complicated federal laws. These new rules would take effect in 2018 and remain active until 2022 as part of a Copyright Royalty Board proceeding that takes place every five years. The proposal, which may be amended in the future and will be reviewed by a panel of federal judges, does not cover rates for recordings. Those are calculated according to a different set of standards.”

6)          Forget Comcast. Here’s The DIY Approach to Internet Access.

One of the truly strange things about Internet access is that it really doesn’t drop in price in North America, despite massive strides made in all domains of technology including telecommunications. This is primarily due to incompetent or corrupt regulation (I prefer to believe our politicians are corrupt rather than stupid). The Internet is an intrinsically decentralized and resilient system which requires neither massive capital investments nor deep knowledge to set up. Absent meddling and anti-competitive regulation it can be done on the cheap.

“So has one of the network’s most important structural elements: The Guifi Foundation isn’t the paid provider of most Internet service to end-user (home and business) customers. That role falls to more than 20 for-profit internet service providers that operate on the overall platform. The ISPs share infrastructure costs according to how much demand they put on the overall system. They pay fees to the foundation for its services — a key source of funding for the overall project. Then they offer various kinds of services to end users, such as installing connections — lately they’ve been install fiber-optic access in some communities — managing traffic flows, offering email, handling customer and technical support, and so on. The prices these ISPs charge are, to this American who’s accustomed to broadband-cartel greed, staggeringly inexpensive: 18 to 35 Euros (currently about $20–$37) a month for gigabit fiber, and much less for slower WiFi. Community ownership and ISP competition does wonders for affordability.”

7)          One-Quarter of US Households Live Without Cable, Satellite TV Reception – New GfK Study

I predicted there would be a shift from broadcast (which includes cable) to Internet delivery in a brief article I wrote in 1996. The shift is taking a lot longer than I expected but it is happening. Interestingly it seems to be related to demographics, with younger consumers more likely to abandon cable entirely.

“New findings from GfK show that US TV households are embracing alternatives to cable and satellite reception. Levels of broadcast-only reception and Internet-only video subscriptions have both risen over the past year, with fully one-quarter (25%) of all US TV households now going without cable and satellite reception. The research, from GfK’s 2016 Ownership and Trend Report from The Home Technology Monitor™, shows that 17% of US TV households now rely on broadcast-only (a.k.a. “over-the-air” or OTA) reception, up from 15% in 2015. Another 6% say they only use Internet services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or YouTube and do not have traditional broadcast or pay TV reception at all; this compares with 4% a year ago.”

8)          US, NSF to put $400M into Advanced Wireless Research Initiative for 5G networks

5G wireless, along with opening of vast swaths of radio spectrum, could prove to be a very significant development in telecommunications technology. I am not sure I see the need for government to subsidize the development of that technology but I guess everybody wants to dip their beak in the taxpayers’ wallet.

“Today, the Obama administration announced the Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, a group backed by $400 million in investment that will work on research aimed to “maintain U.S. leadership and win the next generation of mobile technology” and specifically developing wireless networking tech that will offer speeds 100 times faster than the 4G and LTE networks that are being used today. Led by the National Science Foundation with participation from other organizations, tech companies like Samsung and carriers, the AWRI will receive $400 million from the government over the next seven years to develop and test new wireless networking technology in four “city-scale” testing platforms.”

9)          Tesla Autopilot crash in Montana: Drivers reveals new details and claims a ‘cover up’ by Tesla

Frankly I don’t know who to trust here. On the one hand eye-witness testimony is rarely reliable and it is not like this driver doesn’t have a stake in the claim. On the other hand, Tesla does not have clean hands either, and, assuming they are telling the truth, you have no idea whether their system logs are reliable. Either way the company should not be using its customers to test safety systems.

“In the past few weeks, three accidents involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot made the headlines. Tesla was quick to place the blame with the drivers for two of the accidents, one in Pennsylvania and one in Montana, both involving brand new Model X SUVs. In both cases, the automaker says that the vehicle logs show that drivers ignored several alerts to take control of the vehicles before the accidents. In both cases, the drivers were also cited by the police for careless driving – giving some weight to Tesla’s claims, but now the driver of the Model X in the Montana crash is coming back with a public letter to Tesla and Elon Musk claiming a “cover-up” of the problems with the Autopilot.”

10)      What’s Next for Tesla, Amid Safety Probes and Weak Production?

It might be wishful thinking but even the fawning media coverage associated with Tesla seems to be waning. Not only have they lost the undying love of Consumer Reports but even journalists (generally not known for skeptical thinking) are beginning to wonder what is behind the curtain.

“A fatal crash, a federal safety probe, weak production and sales, and a major acquisition that has soured many long-time proponents. Just when things were starting to look bad for Tesla Motor Co., it now appears they could get worse. A third crash possibly linked to the maker’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system has occurred in Montana while, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly looking into Tesla’s decision to delay the announcement of the first, fatal Autopilot crash until after a $2 billion stock offering. Tesla investors, already riding a roller-coaster in recent months, began selling off shares, though many appear to be waiting to hear what Tesla CEO Elon Musk has in store after issuing a tweet last weekend that said the company is set to reveal its “Top Secret Tesla Masterplan, Part 2” some time this week.”

11)      For Elon Musk, Tesla’s Impresario, the Latest Act Falls Flat

Magicians and stock promoters are masters of misdirection. Tesla has experienced a stream of bad news over the past couple months, most notably preannouncing not just a disastrous quarter but one which will mark their second consecutive sequential decline in sales. Last quarter the Model 3 was the rabbit pulled out the hat, this quarter it’s a bright, shiny, and frankly bizarre “master plan” which has no probability of ever being fulfilled. I can’t wait for next quarter: will he saw a company in half?

“The hints, the tweets, the will-he-or-won’t-he suspense. It was classic showman Elon Musk. Then his much-hyped 1,500-word manifesto dropped and — whiff. The maestro may have struck out. His groupies still idolize the billionaire-genius behind PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors Co. and SolarCity Corp., the dreamer who wants to build hyperloops and colonize Mars. But recently, puffs of doubt have begun to surround the inspiration for Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” movies. After mesmerizing Wall Street for years, investors are starting to look for him to do something new: deliver financial results, or at least a road map for them.”

12)      China To Ban Ad Blockers As Part Of New Regulations For Online Advertising

The article seems to make clear the ban on adblock may have much more to do with government surveillance than protecting advertisers. It stands to reason that if the Chinese are using advertising technology to monitor citizens other governments are as well and that is yet another reason to install adblock.

“Since it’s hard to see the Chinese government really caring too much about the problems that ad-blocking software causes for online publishers, there is presumably another motivation behind this particular move. One possibility is that the Chinese authorities use the tracking capabilities of online ads for surveillance purposes, and the increasing use of ad blockers in China is making that harder. That clearly runs against the current policy of keeping an eye on everything that online users do in China, which is perhaps why the authorities want ad blockers banned in the country, despite the inconvenience and risks for users of doing so.”

13)      Mozilla to block Flash in Firefox browser

Flash, like a lot of Adobe software, is essentially a security vulnerability with some functionality thrown in to make it attractive. That’s why Flash and Adobe PDF reader require almost constant updates. Flash is obsolete but a lot of websites still use it rather than HTML 5. I long ago disabled Flash completely from Firefox, my main browser. On the rare occasions I encounter Flash content I want to watch I fire up Microsoft Edge then immediately shut it down.

“In August, it will block the Flash-powered parts of webpages that were “not essential to the user experience”. The browser developer said its action would mean webpages loaded more quickly and made crashes less likely. In 2017, it said it planned to introduce a system that would mean users must click to activate Flash no matter where it was used on a webpage. In a blogpost, Firefox developer Benjamin Smedberg said its first step would tackle the Flash-based parts of a webpage that users did not see. This includes files used to help with tracking and following which websites users visit, to aid advertising. Many of these hidden functions can now be done using HTML – the language of the web – said Mr Smedberg.”

14)      Researchers create a tiny ‘Atomic’ hard drive that can store 500 terabits of data

This was all over tech websites this week but it is pretty much nonsense. As the article notes it only works at cryogenic temperatures and most likely ever will because atoms don’t stand still for very long, even at extreme low temperatures. It is pretty much a fact of life on the quantu scale and that is not going to changes.

“Imagine if individual atoms could store data. Dutch researchers are working on doing just that, and can fit 500 terabits of data in a single square inch. That’s right: 500 terabits, or 62.5 terabytes, in a drive the size of a postage stamp. This atomic hard drive is 500 times more dense than current solid-state drives, but don’t look for it on the market anytime soon. You can, however, read about it in a paper published in Nature Nonotechnology, if you’re up for some academic reading. For a less academic take, you can read Gizmodo’s interview with Sander Otte, one of the paper’s authors.”

15)      Microsoft Responds To France’s Data Protection Law Order On Windows 10 Excessive Data Collection

The business model of the modern tech company is to take as much information about you and sell it to other people. That is pretty much Facebook, Google, and now Microsoft in a nutshell. Consumers don’t seem to mind and in most places neither do governments. In many ways I laud France for their efforts to dial it back to 11 but I doubt it will have any long term effect. Unless and until consumers care, businesses will just keep ramping up their invasion of privacy.

“The company is adamant about the fact that it’s built many protections into the OS to keep user data and information safe, saying that it’s always complied with the Safe Harbor framework, which has remained valid until last week, which is when the new Privacy Shield became adopted instead. Both Safe Harbor and Privacy Shield aim to protect user data as it gets sent back and forth between the US and the EU. Interestingly, Microsoft isn’t responding to every point of France’s letter quite yet; the company has said that it will release an updated privacy statement next month, which will implement the requirements to adhere to Privacy Shield rules.”

16)      AI adoption coming quickly to the enterprise sector

Finally an article that looks at AI for what it is: an approach to dealing with data-heavy problems, not an attempt to create a “thinking” computer. As the article shows the problem solving approach has increasing utility is real work business applications. No killer robots are mentioned in the article.

“The leading factor driving this rise in artificial intelligence is the proliferation of data-driven projects. With the emergence of app-driven interaction and increased adoption of cloud-based SaaS solutions, consumers and enterprise customers alike are providing massive amounts of useful data to companies that they can use to improve and expand on their products and services. Artificial intelligence plays an important role in analyzing that data in order to find areas where company resources are best spent. One of the key reasons for so much investment in artificial intelligence is the lack of data science talent. Data scientists, humans that are able to comb through large amounts of data and analyze them to create actionable information, are in high demand right now. There simply aren’t enough trained data scientists to go around. With demand for this talent on the rise, companies are looking to AI to fill in the gaps.”

17)      Offline: What is medicine’s 5 sigma?

The first step in fixing a problem is to admit you have a problem. The root of the problem is the “publish or perish” mentality which has dominated science for several decades and which leads to researchers cranking stuff out, and which provides a strong disincentive to attempt to verify the work of others because few journals will publish the research and you can end up isolated if you publish a negative finding. The journals themselves are largely to blame: besides their reticence to publish follow up findings, they seem to have convinced themselves “peer review” is a meaningful exercise in quality control. It is worth nothing that The Lancet, one of the most prestigious journals, published the “Vaccines cause autism” garbage which has led to so many deaths.

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”. The Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council, and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have now put their reputational weight behind an investigation into these questionable research practices. The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too.”

18)      Corning’s new Gorilla Glass 5 survives drops “up to 80%” of the time

One of the most common failures for smartphones is a broken display. This is especially the case as many modern designs bring the display to right near the edge of the case. Corning’s Gorilla Glass is pretty amazing stuff and the promised drop resistance sounds promising. Unfortunately I suspect “edge on” drops are far more common than “face down” and are what leads to the damage. I wish vendors would simply install a thin bumper around the device to protect it.

“Gorilla Glass is great at resisting scratches, but it’s prone to shattering when dropped. With Gorilla Glass 5, Corning claims the glass is now able to survive more drops than ever. The official claim is that the new stuff survives “1.6-meter, shoulder-height drops onto hard, rough surfaces up to 80% of the time.””

19)      Netflix will stream CBS’ new Star Trek series all around the world

Besides being a story about Star Trek this move is part of an effort to attract cord cutters and expand “over the top” delivery of content by broadcasters. The new Star Trek series will be available online only, probably to build paid viewers of CBS All Access. I can’t see subscribing to a service for a single program no matter how much I enjoy Star Trek. Alas, the Netflix deal excludes Canada, so the program will likely only be available through Bell or another of the oligopoly and therefore will be pirated. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“Star Trek fans around the world clamoring for CBS’ new take on the universe have an unexpected party to thank for the show’s international availability: Netflix. The streaming giant announced today that it’s obtained the international rights to the new Star Trek in 188 countries (excluding the US and Canada), a deal that’ll see new episodes premiering on Netflix less than 24 hours after they make their domestic debut on CBS All Access, the network’s own paid streaming platform. Netflix has also secured the rights to all 727 episodes of Star Trek already made, including episodes from the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Those shows will be available for streaming around the world on Netflix by the end of 2016.”


20)      This Open Source Tool Can Map Out Bitcoin Payments

One of the purported advantages of cryptocurrencies is the supposed anonymity of transactions. This work seems to imply that anonymity is not as strict as people think it is.

“Bitcoin is not anonymous. Anyone who has followed the dark web or the continuing regulation of the cryptocurrency should be familiar with that idea. If someone manages to link a real identity to a wallet—something that we’ve seen is possible—they can then follow other transactions around the public blockchain to see where else that person’s money has traveled. Now, researchers are releasing an open-source tool for grouping bitcoin transactions together in order to identify which belong the same entity, marketplace, or person. It doesn’t necessarily reveal the identity of the bitcoin user, but it can show details about someone’s bitcoin spending.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 15th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 15th 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni



1)          The Fake Factory That Pumped Out Real Money

I love this article because it is about a scam (fraudulent biofuels) within a scam (biofuels). Why do I call biofuels a scam? Well, because, with the exception of the small amount which arises from waste like cooking grease, they use more fossil fuel equivalent to make than they produce. How do I know this? Well, when they start using unsubsidized biofuels to harvest the plants, etc., to make biofuels we can discuss it. Until then it is a scam to transfer taxpayer’s money to big agriculture. Thanks to Nick Tang for this article.

“In February 2009, shortly after Green Diesel produced its last fuel, Rivkin registered a user ID, PRIVKIN2, and an e-mail,, with the EPA. Nine months later he reported that Green Diesel had produced 22.1 million gallons of biodiesel. The next year, the EPA began phasing in an electronic system for reporting RIN trades. From October 2010 through July 2011, Rivkin logged into the tracking platform at least 25 times and laid claim to more than 45 million RINs, the federal criminal complaint said. During the same period, he sold $48.5 million in sham RINs. Federal investigators think Rivkin stopped dealing RINs sometime in late 2011, though some of his falsified numbers were still being traded by others months later. In return for the hollow credits, ConocoPhillips paid Green Diesel $18 million, according to court documents. Shell got stung for $14.4 million, BP for $13.6 million, Marathon Oil for $12.4 million, Exxon $1.2 million. All these companies also were forced to buy new RINs to replace Rivkin’s phony ones.”

2)          Samsung Develops Slot That Supports Both New UFS 1.0 and MicroSD Cards

Last week I had a piece on Samsung’s new UFS memory card technology which will replace SD and uSD cards with a much faster interface with comparable speeds to a Solid State Drive. These transitions create a “chicken and egg” dilemma – why adopt the new technology if the parts are scarce and expensive and why make the parts if there are few devices which support it. Samsung has a solution.

“So as we sort of expected, the new UFS 1.0 cards will not work with anything currently on the market. The microSD card slot in your device will not work with a UFS card. However, in really good news, Samsung has developed a socket that can support both the new UFS cards and microSD cards. In other words, your stack of microSD cards will not soon be obsolete – you’ll still be able to use them, even in devices that support UFS cards.”

3)          Turn on 5G, turn off old landlines: FCC plans future of phone networks

To put things in perspective the unlicensed the spectrum alone being opened up is a multiple of all of the spectrum being used for terrestrial communications right now. The frequencies are problematic in that they require far more complex antenna technologies such as MIMO and beam forming unless there is a line of sight so I don’t expect products to be on the market overnight. Nonetheless, radio technology has a knack for exploiting the previously inaccessible so it will probably be a lot sooner than you think.

“”These new rules open up nearly 11GHz of high-frequency spectrum for flexible, mobile, and fixed use wireless broadband—3.85GHz of licensed spectrum and 7GHz of unlicensed spectrum,” the FCC’s announcement said. The frequencies are in the 28GHz, 37GHz, 39GHz, and 64-71GHz bands. As we’ve previously written, these frequencies are much higher than the ones used for 4G LTE and other existing networks. With the higher bands, the FCC can allocate spectrum in blocks of at least 200MHz, instead of the standard 5MHz or 10MHz, allowing networks to carry a lot more data.”

4)          How the new 5G manifesto will affect your future phones, cars and internet

The article is a bit long and explains why most headlines stated operators wanted an end to “net neutrality”. That is technically true however it seems the issue is more subtle: can you combine all communications including emergency services and defer delivery in order to deliver entertainment. The solution can be to simply flag certain government sanctioned uses as high priority in times of need.

“Perhaps the biggest headline is that the EU wants 5G services to be up and running by 2020. But this is easier said than done. Before Apple and Samsung can start cranking out phones that support 5G, and before networks can start building new towers, the industry needs to get together to agree on a common set of standards to ensure that technology is interoperable and that the spectrum that is chosen for 5G is harmonised across Europe (so that 5G in one country doesn’t interfere with the TV signals in another, and so on.) According to the document, the signatories expect to see independent trials of various 5G technologies prior to 2018 – and then in 2018 the 3GPP, the organisation that agrees the standards internationally, will finalise the rules on what makes a phone officially “5G”.”

5)          AT&T thinks drones can fix terrible reception at baseball games

Tethered drones to solve the problem of poor reception at baseball games. That is a solution, albeit a potentially dangerous and expensive one. Since base stations are cheap and WiFi even cheaper, why not just wire the station properly? Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“So you’re at a Beyoncé concert, but can’t Snapchat a video. You want to text your friends your location at a baseball game, but your phone has no signal. Packed venues like these are notorious for poor cellphone reception. Well, AT&T says it has a solution: drones. AT&T Inc. T, says it is exploring providing LTE wireless coverage at crowded venues, like concerts and baseball games, by using a drone that is tethered to the ground but hovering in the air nearby. AT&T has dubbed the drones “Flying COWs” — the COW stands for “Cell on Wings.” The drones would boost LTE coverage to areas in need of it during occasional large events. They would be tethered to the ground to prevent them from going rogue and flying away.”

6)          Microsoft prices Windows 10 Enterprise subscription at $84 per user per year

I suspect that Window’s 10 is part of a long term strategy to shift to offer “Software as a Service” to consumers and businesses. Of course many of Microsoft’s business customers already pay support fees and Office 360 already is a subscription service. “Operating Systems as a Service” is probably coming, with a basic version bought with the PC and recurring charges for premium features.

“Microsoft plans to make its recently renamed Windows 10 Enterprise product available as a subscription for $7 per user per month, or $84 per year. Microsoft took the wraps off the pricing of one of the two renamed versions of Windows 10 Enterprise at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto on July 12. Windows 10 Enterprise E3 is the name of the lower-end of two different versions of Windows 10 Enterprise. Windows 10 Enterprise E5 is the new name of the Windows 10 Enterprise version that also will include Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, a new Microsoft service for detecting and responding to attacks.”

7)          Tesla no longer guarantees your electric car’s resale value

The article and much of the commentary hails this as a good sign. I strongly suspect the increasing contingent liability as well as the looming reality that 8 year old Teslas should have a $0 resale value is fast approaching has more to do with it. Any 8 year old EV is either due for a battery replacement (if used at all) or will need a battery replacement within a few years. Since the battery is a $30K replacement part, EVs needing a battery will be worthless.

“Tesla introduced its Resale Value Guarantee in 2013, when buying an upscale electric car was a riskier prospect. What if your Model S was worth less than a tried-and-true German sedan? However, the market has clearly grown up since then… and Tesla is changing accordingly. The automaker tells The Verge that it has discontinued the program for any new car bought after July 1st. The move will reduce interest rates “as low as possible” and sweeten leases and loans, a spokesperson says. You’re still protected if you bought a car under the guarantee, but any relative latecomers will just have to trust that the used EV market will work in their favor.”

8)          Tesla Model X plows into Montana guard rail in third Autopilot crash

Tesla “autopilot” is remarkable piece of technology: when it works it is because of the advanced safety function, when it doesn’t the driver is an idiot for believing it would work. Imagine if anti-lock brakes worked most of the time: if they worked and saved your life they are a brilliant example of a modern safety feature but if they occasionally didn’t work then the accident was your fault for not providing enough braking distance and relying on the damned things to work in the first place.

“A Tesla owner is blaming an accident that took place recently in Whitehall, Montana, on the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot technology. The news of the crash comes in the wake of two accidents — including a fatal one in Florida — in which Autopilot was allegedly involved. A message posted on the Tesla Motors Club forum by user Eresan explains that his friend was traveling in a Model X at about 60 mph in a 55-mph zone with Autopilot turned on when the crossover veered off the road and hit a wooden guardrail. The impact sheared off the passenger’s side front wheel, the fender, and the headlight, and it badly damaged the entire right side of the body. The two occupants walked away without major injuries.”

9)          Tesla’s Autopilot: Too Much Autonomy Too Soon

Consumer Reports lost my respect when they provided the aspiration rating of “best car ever tested”, despite a poor build quality and such an astounding lack of reliability as many vehicles require major repairs within a year. They subsequently switched that to “not recommended” ( In any event, it seems to have dawned on the purportedly “pro-consumer” organization that potentially sacrificing human lives testing a novel feature might not be the best approach. Golly what a brave stance! Thanks to my friends Duncan Stewart and Humphrey Brown for this item.

“While the exact cause of the fatal accident is not yet known, the incident has caused safety advocates, including Consumer Reports, to question whether the name Autopilot, as well as the marketing hype of its roll-out, promoted a dangerously premature assumption that the Model S was capable of truly driving on its own. Tesla’s own press release for the system announced “Your Autopilot has arrived” and promised to relieve drivers “of the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel.” But the release also states that the driver “is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.”

10)      Senate committee calls out Elon Musk, wants answers on Tesla Autopilot

Senate committee testimony can be interesting or not depending on the biases at the table. A lot will depend on whether the committee members have been briefed on basic statistics (which would paint a rather different picture of safety) and whether they support the potential use of human sacrifice in a corporate R&D program. On the one hand there is a likely innate bias against a faux environmentally friendly vehicle, on the other hand there is a decidedly pro-business/anti-consumer slant to the US government and Tesla has a remarkable ability to shrug off negative news no matter how bad it is.

“The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has called out Tesla CEO Elon Musk to answer some questions about the company’s Autopilot technology, and what the Silicon Valley automaker is doing to educate drivers about it. Sen. John Thune, a chairman for the committee, issued the letter today seeking a response from Musk and Tesla no later than July 29th. The inquiry was prompted after a fatal Tesla crash in Florida, which we reported on earlier. During that crash, the driver had Autopilot engaged. In a second crash in Pennsylvania, which was not fatal, the Detroit Free Press reports that the driver thought he had Autopilot engaged. Musk issued a public statement today, however, that according to investigators’ findings, Autopilot was not on in Pennsylvania, and in fact could have prevented that crash.”

11)      TV subscribers dwindling, but prices rise, CRTC data shows

This is pretty much par for the course in an economy consisting of a small number of powerful and lightly regulated oligopolies and a clueless government. The oligopoly structure and lack of regulation mean there is little to no competition and that gives a simple choice to consumers: drop the service or put up with a price increase. There is no natural competitive response such as improving service or reducing prices because there is no need for one. Fortunately for the cable companies they also have oligopoly control over Internet service (along with mobile service and much of the media) so they can jack prices on those to offset those as well.

“About 160,000 Canadians cancelled their TV subscription last year, but the industry managed to offset that loss by charging the remaining customers more. … While the number of TV subscribers declined, the hit to the companies’ bottom line wasn’t quite as dire, as revenues dipped by just 0.1 per cent to $8.9 billion. That’s because TV providers managed to squeeze more money out of their remaining customers by offering them expanded or better services. The average TV subscriber’s monthly bill ticked up from $65.25 in 2014 to $66.08 in 2015.”

12)      Fox TV Launches Live Network Prime Time Streaming

As consumers slowly drop cable services content providers are in a bit of a pickle because many ex-cable subscribers still want to watch their programming, plus more and more people watch TV on a computer rather than a TV. “Over the top” has been around for some tie but is just coming into its own. This presents a major opportunity for Google to provide targeted ads since “over the top” streams are 1:1. Thanks again to Nick Tang for this item.

“Making a bold step into the streaming digital world, Fox will be the first network allowing viewers to live stream Fox prime-time programming across every TV market in the U.S. The new service, call Fox Now Live — a spin-off of its on-demand digital programming service Fox Now — starts today. It means pay TV subscribers nationwide can stream summer prime-time programs like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “MasterChef” and “Wayward Pines” at the same time these shows air in their local time zones.”

13)      Tougher Turing Test Exposes Chatbots’ Stupidity

The original Turing Test was more of a thought experiment than anything else. It is a pretty meaningless exercise as are other parlor tricks to make people think somehow there are “intelligent” computers. It turns out that we don’t understand much about how the brain works yet along how intelligence emerges so coding it up is going to be a lot harder than you think.

“The Winograd Schema Challenge asks computers to make sense of sentences that are ambiguous but usually simple for humans to parse. Disambiguating Winograd Schema sentences requires some common-sense understanding. In the sentence “The city councilmen refused the demonstrators a permit because they feared violence,” it is logically unclear who the word “they” refers to, although humans understand because of the broader context. The programs entered into the challenge were a little better than random at choosing the correct meaning of sentences. The best two entrants were correct 48 percent of the time, compared to 45 percent if the answers are chosen at random.”

14)      TOS agreements require giving up first born—and users gladly consent

Terms of Services are ubiquitous and probably unenforceable boilerplate which accompanies pretty much every tech product or service nowadays. I say probably unenforceable because in a lot of contexts somebody has to have read and understood a document before they can be said to have agreed to its terms. Since ToS are rarely read or understood, as this study shows, an enterprising lawyer could make the case they are void.

“A study out this month made the point all too clear. Most of the 543 university students involved in the analysis didn’t bother to read the terms of service before signing up for a fake social networking site called “NameDrop” that the students believed was real. Those who did glossed over important clauses. The terms of service required them to give up their first born, and if they don’t yet have one, they get until 2050 to do so. The privacy policy said that their data would be given to the NSA and employers. Of the few participants who read those clauses, they signed up for the service anyway. “This brings us to the biggest lie on the Internet, which anecdotally, is known as ‘I agree to these terms and conditions,'” the study found.”

15)      Ashley Madison admits using fembots to lure men into spending money

You might remember this as the company which has a purported match making site for infidelity and which was hacked. Besides opening up its users to blackmail, the hack exposed the apparent reality that there were very few actual female members and most of the expensive email correspondence was with non-existent people as this admission shows. I find it astounding that, despite the hack and the related revelations the company is still in business, especially since it turns out another component of their business model was to threaten exposing their own customers ( as a means to resolve disputes related to the practice.

“Last year, as part of an investigation into the data dump, I published a series of articles at Gizmodo exposing how the company used female chatbots called “hosts” or “engagers” to trick men into paying for Ashley Madison’s services. The scam was simple: when a man signed up for a free account, he almost immediately got a chat or private message from a “woman” whose profile showed a few sexy pictures. To reply to his new lady friend, the man had to pay for an account. In reality, that lady was a few lines of PHP code. In internal e-mails, company executives shared documents that showed more than three-quarters of all paying customers had been converted by a fembot, referred to as a “host.” There were more than 70 thousand of these fembot accounts, created in dozens of languages by data entry workers. The workers were told to populate these accounts with fake information and real photos posted by women who had shut down their accounts on Ashley Madison or other properties owned by Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media.”

16)      Bitcoin ‘miners’ face fight for survival as new supply halves

Bitcoin miners take electricity and use it to create numbers. Those numbers are then fobbed off to people as a sort of currency, and most of that currency ends up being stolen by what are essentially fraudulent banks. Although the value of the sham currency fluctuates a lot it stands to reason that it will approach the cost of the electricity used to create it. A stepwise decrease in “reward” cannot be matched by an equivalent drop in electricity price or offsetting improvement in computing efficiency. I therefore confidently predict an increasing amount of bitcoin mining will be by hacking other people’s computers meaning the sham currency will be produced illegally and deposited into fraudulent banks for easy theft. It has a certain Zen about it.

“The process has come to be known as “mining” because it is slow and intensive, reaping a gradual reward in the same way that minerals such as gold are mined from the ground. But on Saturday, the reward for miners will be slashed in half. Written into bitcoin’s code when it was invented in 2008 was a rule dictating that the prize would be halved every four years, in a step designed to keep a lid on bitcoin inflation. From around 1700 GMT on Saturday, instead of 25 bitcoins up for grabs globally every 10 minutes, worth around $16,000 at the current rate BTC=BTSP, there will be just 12.5.”

17)      Industry estimates put downturn at between 5% and 8% for the June quarter

Apple PC sales are a minor component of the company’s revenues. Apple’s marketing allowed it to gain market share against other PC vendors despite offering a premium priced product with features a generation or so behind the curve. This was probably due to a spillover effect associated with the iPhone, another premium priced product which, although it once had class leading features, is now a generation or more behind. Apple is in for a world of hurt as the smartphone market matures and I suspect a similar fate awaits them in the PC business.

“IDC and Gartner both pegged Mac global shipments in the quarter that ended June 30 at lower numbers than during the same period in 2015, even as several Windows PC makers grew theirs. Historically, Apple has grown Mac sales while the broader personal computer market has experienced an unprecedented slump. IDC estimated Mac shipments for the June quarter at 4.4 million, an 8% reduction from 2015, dropping Apple from fourth to fifth place on the list of top OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Meanwhile, Gartner put Mac shipments at 4.6 million, a decline of 5%, and like its rival, said Apple was No. 5, behind Taiwanese device maker Asus.”

18)      PewDiePie and other YouTubers took money from Warner Bros. for positive game reviews

I’m shocked, shocked I tell you. I have no idea who PewDiePie is or what he does but the incestuous and financially lucrative relationship between companies which make stuff and media which talks about stuff is not exactly something new and it certainly isn’t limited to YouTube. When Apple product releases are featured on the national news either somebody is being paid off or there is some other consideration (such as ad spending) behind it.

“The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with Warner Bros. over claims that the publisher failed to disclose that it had paid prominent YouTubers for positive coverage of one of its video games. The FTC charge stated that Warner Bros. deceived customers by paying thousands of dollars to social media “influencers,” including YouTube megastar PewDiePie, to cover Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor without announcing that money had changed hands. Under the terms of the agreement, Warner Bros. is banned from failing to disclose similar deals in the future, and cannot pretend that sponsored videos and articles are actually the work of independent producers. “Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich said in a statement. “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.””

19)      Can Fact-Checking Save Democracy—and Journalism as We Know It?

Fact checking? Fact checking? What is wrong with people? Reporters are mostly in the business of slightly modifying press releases or other stuff they are spoon fed, how can they be expected to fact check anything? The spin business would be devastated if reporters actually fact checked anything. Think of all the PR people who would be out of work, or the impact on Tesla if basic objective facts were ever checked. Tut tut. Fact checking indeed.

“In the decades after the 1980s, most news outlets around the world could not afford—or simply did not consider it necessary—to have fact-checking department, or even a single fact-checker playing the role of devil’s advocate in the newsroom. But the need for fact-checking hasn’t gone away. As new technologies have spawned new forms of media which lend themselves to the spread of various kinds of disinformation, this need has in fact grown. Much of the information that’s spread online, even by news outlets, is not checked, as outlets simply copy-paste—or in some instances, plagiarize—”click-worthy” content generated by others. Politicians, especially populists prone to manipulative tactics, have embraced this new media environment by making alliances with tabloid tycoons or by becoming media owners themselves.”

20)      The Rise and Fall of Theranos: A Cartoon History

No pull quote here but the item is a fun read. Kudos to the Wall Street Journal journalist who bothered to fact check, but that is a really a very rare event. Watch the highly recommended movie “The Big Short” for a more typical example of what usually happens.

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 8th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 8th 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni


ps: Slow news week if not for Tesla.



1)          Tesla Falls After Paring Delivery Forecast Amid Factory Strains

This has been a huge month for Tesla news. Besides the bizarre announcement Tesla would buy Solar City (a company with significant ownership by Musk and his relatives), we had a dead driver, a second suspicious accident, then this preannouncement of poor Q2 shipments. Apparently, the “extreme production ramp” has somehow led to shipments falling for the second consecutive quarter. Of course, I don’t fully understand Teslaspeak: where I am from “ramp” in that context usually means increase, though it could mean like a boat ramp. This seems to be the second sequential quarterly decline so I guess they are building to the climax. As for over 5,000 cars on trucks and ships you have to wonder: I can get most things shipped from California to anywhere in North America in a couple days. None of this seems to have hit the stock price, oddly enough.

“Deliveries of 14,370 vehicles trailed a projection of about 17,000, after an “extreme production ramp” came too late in the quarter to get the cars to their buyers, Tesla said Sunday. About half of the quarter’s output in the final four weeks. Second-half deliveries now will be about 50,000 cars, according to a Tesla statement. That would mean 79,180 Model S sedans and Model X sport utility vehicles shipped for the full year, slightly below its previous range of 80,000 to 90,000. … Tesla said 5,150 cars were still on trucks and ships making their way to clients who ordered them, and will be delivered in the first part of this quarter.”

2)          Elon Musk says that about ‘500,000 people would have been saved (last year) if Tesla’s Autopilot was universally available’

It amazes me nobody calls him out on these things. There is no data to support the hypothesis Tesla’s autopilot is safe at all, let alone safer than human driver. He is comparing apples to oranges in terms of statistics and any high school student should be able to spot that. What educated person (not working in the media) doesn’t understand what an average is? If nothing else, there are 9 popular vehicles which did not record a single fatality in 2012 (see near the bottom). Although the figures are stated differently (deaths per registered vehicle year) we can make an estimate. This covers a 4 year period so, assuming half are 2WD, that would place about 425,000 in the fleet at that time. The average US driver travels about 15,000 miles per year so Kia Sorentos would have gone about 3.2 billion miles without a fatal collision in 2012 alone (that is 24x safer than a Tesla on “autopilot”). The Subaru Legacy fleet is much smaller (albeit double the Tesla fleet) and would have traveled about 2.6 billion miles in 2012 without a fatality. (see for sales figures). Perhaps all fatalities would have been prevented if everybody drove Subaru Legacies. It’s the roof rack, I tell you.

“Following the news of the fatal accident in a Tesla Model S on Autopilot, which happened in May but only came to light last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims that about half of the approximately one million people who died in auto accidents last year would have been saved if the Tesla Autopilot was universally available. He made the comment in a somewhat strange email conversation with a retired journalist.”

3)          How the Media Screwed Up the Fatal Tesla Accident

Just to show how completely Tesla has the media befuddled, even the usually competent Vanity Fair saw fit to reinforce the nonsense. You’d think a Vanity Fair journalist would have the knowledge to realise the problem with the stats or at least pick up the phone and ask a high school student to explain it to him but no he takes nonsense and runs with it. The other thing is he refers to self-driving cars, which the Tesla is not. If it were there would some doubt as to whether or not it is legal to operate in most states (see For any journalists out there how managed to get edumacated without doin’ maths please read

“Since the news broke about this accident, the story has been picked up in thousands of outlets—including this one—around the world, many of which raised significant concerns for Tesla’s Autopilot feature and the future of driverless cars. The New York Times ran a front-page story on Brown, quoting experts who said that the accident was “a wake-up call” for the rapidly burgeoning self-driving industry—an incident, in fact, that should force us to “reassess” driverless cars. Fortune scathed Elon Musk and Tesla for misleading shareholders and not sharing the crash news sooner. And a local Florida ABC News affiliate said the crash was “raising safety concerns for everyone in Florida.” (Yes, the newscaster literally said “everyone.”)”

4)          Second Tesla crash probed in US

Just sayin’

“A second crash involving a Tesla car – which includes a self-driving feature known as Autopilot – is being investigated by the US authorities. The accident in Pennsylvania left the driver and his passenger injured. The carmaker said that there was “no evidence” that Autopilot was responsible. It follows an investigation into a fatal accident in Florida where the focus is on the apparent failure of Tesla’s technology. In the incident in Pennsylvania, the Model X car hit a guard rail and veered into the eastbound lane, ending up on its roof. In a statement, Tesla said: “Based on the information we have now, we have no reason to believe that Autopilot had anything to do with this accident.””

5)          Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes banned for two years

Theranos was another tech company who learned to get the media to eat out of its hands. Although it was private, articles were written about a “genius CEO”, paradigm shifts etc.. Nobody really bothered to ask any actual experts on the subject as to whether or not Theranos could, in fact, be doing what it said it was doing. I mean, why bother with facts that might get in the way of a good story, right?

“Embattled biotech company Theranos says that federal regulators have revoked the license of its California blood-testing facility and banned founder Elizabeth Holmes from owning or operating a laboratory for two years. Theranos said it was notified of the sanctions by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday. The company faces a civil financial penalty, and regulators have also canceled the lab’s approval to receive Medicare and Medicaid payments.”

6)          iPhone 7: Seriously, this phone sounds boring to you?

It must be pretty exciting to think about the possibility the base model iPhone 7 is expected to come out with the same storage as the majority of devices on the market. Plus the features listed, except perhaps for the colors, have been on the market for years in lesser devices. Well devices for a fraction of the price. To think we are alive in such heady times. One thing though: in the US there are no more contracts so that just means people will hang onto their devices longer.

“Call me crazy, but the iPhone 7 is shaping up to be a leap that may be even more impressive than the one 2015’s 6s and 6s Plus made. This past week alone, we’ve seen a flurry of leaks that point to some exciting new features. In fact, one leak in particular revealed two hot new features we never saw coming. Then a report from The Wall Street Journal firmed up earlier leaks suggesting that the iPhone 7 will offer twice as much storage as previous iPhones, with the base model starting at 32GB. … Oh, and let’s not forget that it will go on sale just as millions upon millions of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus buyers come off of their two-year contracts.”

7)          Mobile Ad Study Finds Interstitials Only Slightly Better Than Banners for Being Seen

The only ads I ever see on my mobile are fraudulent or gambling related (and therefor fraudulent by extension). The ads are small and necessarily “light” so it is hard to believe they create much in the way of commercial impact. I suspect most people are conditioned to simply ignore the noise. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“To better understand why less than 1 percent of viewable display ads get clicked, the teams spent several weeks testing 30 adults in a lab using technology such as eye tracking, wireless EEG (electroencephalography) headsets to measure emotions and attention, biometric scanners to measure “overall arousal,” and facial trackers. Participants were then surveyed about what they remembered and what they did or didn’t like. The results, published in a paper by the Advertising Research Foundation, were revealing but not entirely promising for marketers. For example, time spent looking at ads was less than 200 milliseconds per view, while time spent looking at interstitial ads was slightly more than 800 milliseconds. According to Light Reaction scientist Paolo Gaudiano, that’s pretty “insignificant.””

8)          Germany To Halt Construction Of Offshore Wind Farms

I suspect the source is biased but the facts in the article and the general commentary regarding the impact of unpredictable power sources on the grid seem to align with my understanding. One thing worth noting is that CO2 emissions are dropping like a stone in North America after a massive ramp in heavily subsidized solar and wind production. Although the “green” lobby is portraying this as a sign of success it is directly a result of cheap natural gas associated with fracking, and the natural gas is displacing coal as a cost effective source of power.

“Despite the cut backs to wind power, the German government estimates that it will spend more than $1.1 trillion financially supporting wind power, even though building wind turbines hasn’t achieved the government’s goal of actually reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to slow global warming.”

9)          Samsung Introduces World’s First Universal Flash Storage (UFS) Removable Memory Card Line-up, Offering up to 256-Gigabyte (GB) Capacity

UFS is not just a replacement technology for SD and uSD memory cards, its performance figures almost match a traditional Solid State Drive (SSD), making it much faster than SD. This means that it will like also replace the eMMC technology used in smartphones, etc.. It will take some time for the new spec to catch on but as a major device and flash vendor Samsung can help jumpstart that transition. Although Samsung does own a lot of related patents this is an open standard I figure will be very successful.

“Samsung’s new 256GB UFS removable memory card ─ simply referred to as the UFS card will provide greatly improved user experiences, especially in high-resolution 3D gaming and high-resolution movie playback. It provides more than five times faster sequential read performance compared to that of a typical microSD card, reading sequentially at 530 megabytes per second (MB/s) which is similar to the sequential read speed of the most widely used SATA SSDs. With this UFS card, consumers have the ability to read a 5GB, Full-HD movie in approximately 10 seconds, compared to a typical UHS-1 microSD card, which would take over 50 seconds with 95MB/s of sequential reading speed. Also, at a random read rate of 40,000 IOPS, the 256GB card delivers more than 20 times higher random read performance compared to a typical microSD, which offers approximately 1,800 IOPS.”

10)      Google acquires Anvato, a media streaming and monetization platform for broadcasters

Google’s success has mostly come at the expense of print ads (newspaper and magazines). Broadcast ad spending has been relatively stable while print ad spending has plummeted even though more and more people are watching more and more video via streaming or “over the top” services. This opens up a huge new market for Google to dynamically insert video ads into streaming content. Of course, in this case, the broadcasters are in a position to profit since they own the content but they will need Google’s data to target the ads.

“Anvato’s technology allows its customers, which include the likes of NBCUniversal, MSNBC, CBS, Univision, HGTV, Bravo and Fox Sports, to power live streams, edit videos in the cloud, insert ads and handle pay-per-view, TV Everywhere and subscription payments. With that, it offers an end-to-end service for video publishing and monetization, something Google’s own platform doesn’t currently offer.”

11)      A bug in fMRI software could invalidate 15 years of brain research

Long ago researchers produced a few good scientific papers in their entire lifetimes. The current “publish or perish” environment means they have to keep cranking them out or they lose their funding. That means that very little effort goes into actually verifying whether a finding is replicable, let alone correct. This creates a house of card for when somebody actually does the math. Thanks to my friends Humphrey Brown and Duncan Stewart for this item.

“There could be a very serious problem with the past 15 years of research into human brain activity, with a new study suggesting that a bug in fMRI software could invalidate the results of some 40,000 papers. That’s massive, because functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is one of the best tools we have to measure brain activity, and if it’s flawed, it means all those conclusions about what our brains look like during things like exercise, gaming, love, and drug addiction are wrong.”

12)      U.S. Senate finally ditches BlackBerry

It had to happen I guess. It is remarkable how fast you can fall that far. The company still has about $1B of net cash to burn through but unless somebody buys them, they are pretty much in a downward spiral.

“The U.S. Senate is finally making the switch from BlackBerry to Android or iPhone, a switch most of us made years ago. Senate staff will no longer receive new BlackBerry phones, according to a memo from the Senate Sergeant at Arms sent last week to administrative managers, chief clerks and system administrators that was posted by Politico and blogger Jim Swift. The reason, according to the memo: BlackBerry told telecom carriers Verizon and AT&T that production of all Blackberry OS 10 devices (Q10, Z10, Z30, Passport and Classic) is being discontinued and future fulfillment can’t be guaranteed.”

13)      LG Display prepares POLED for cars and wearables

POLED displays have been in the works for a while. The potential here is huge: because the substrate is flexible they might be able to make these displays on a continuous process (i.e. a sort of printing press) which would have a huge impact on pricing.

“LG Display has brought in equipment for plastic OLED, or POLED, to its E5 factory line to ramp up the production of displays for automobiles, smartphones and wearables, starting next year. The display maker already produces small-sized OLED display panels mostly headed for wearables but the new equipment will boost production, allowing it to meet a diversifying demand. LG Display will set up the line for the displays at the factory in Gumi, South Korea, within the year and start supplying them to clients in the first half of next year. POLED uses plastic as substrate which is considered more malleable and durable than conventional glass, making it best for flexible display production and new usage.”

14)      NSA classifies Linux Journal readers, Tor and Tails Linux users as “extremists”

I’m old enough to remember when you could tell the good guys from the bad guys and when the term “extremist” meant somebody other than a person with an interest in personal privacy.

“Are you a Linux Journal reader or use software such as Tor and Tails Linux? If so, you’ve probably been flagged as an “extremist” by the NSA. Leaked documents related to the XKeyscore snooping program reveal that the agency is targeting anyone who is interested in online privacy, specifically those who use the aforementioned software and visit the Linux user community website. XKeyscore is a collection and analysis software that was among a number of surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden last year.”

15)      Antivirus software is ‘increasingly useless’ and may make your computer less safe

This is probably more correct on the enterprise side than on the personal side. Hackers go for the weak points and the hacks tend to be different for companies than for individuals. If you want to set up a bot net or something PCs are great because they are weekly defended and there are lots of them. If you want to steal a few million dollars you go after corporations and that often is a long game involving social engineering. So keep the virus scanner for now because it can protect against the most likely threats your personal computer will face.

“Internet security experts are warning that anti-malware technology is becoming less and less effective at protecting your data and devices, and there’s evidence that security software can sometimes even make your computer more vulnerable to security breaches. This week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) issued a warning about popular antivirus software made by Symantec, some of it under the Norton brand, after security researchers with Google’s Project Zero found critical vulnerabilities.”

16)      Set-top saga: Comcast says it’s “not feasible” to comply with FCC cable box rules

Cable companies make a lot of money renting set top boxes to consumers, just as the phone companies used to profit renting phones out. The FCC has decided to open up the market and that is not only going to lead to better set top boxes but cost the cable companies a lot of near zero cost profit. Just as the phone companies did when they claimed it was “dangerous” to allow consumers to actually own their own phones the cable companies are trying to make the case it cannot be done. So, we can send a probe to orbit Jupiter but we can’t make a set top box. Hmmmm.

“So why is Comcast opposed to the FCC plan? Among Comcast’s publicly stated reasons, the company claims that the FCC plan is such a mess that it would be nearly impossible to comply with. Could Comcast be making a valid point? FCC officials who have heard Comcast’s arguments told Ars that the company is exaggerating the difficulty of complying. Comcast critics also say the company is wrong. But let’s take a look at what Comcast is saying.”

17)      3D printed talus implant helps Chinese patient walk freely again

The talus is the bone at the bottom of your ankle which connects the tibia to the foot. Although this is an unusual case in that the patient’s bone died, it is not unusual for arthritis to attack the talus and lead to ankle fusion, which restricts mobility. 3D printing might lead to a better solution than that. By the way the headline and the article disagree. It seems the surgery was just recently performed and mobility isn’t expected for at least 6 weeks.

“Three years ago, 27-year-old electrical engineer Mr. Fang fell down the stairs and sprained his ankle. To treat the sprain, he initially underwent a traditional fracture surgery to reset the bone. Once the bone had reset, however, Mr. Fang began to suffer from talar necrosis, a condition where the talus bone is deprived from blood and oxygen and starts to die. The condition also prevented the patient from walking. Fortunately, Mr. Fang was brought to the Southwest Hospital seeking treatment and became the first ever patient to receive a biologically functional 3D printed talar implant. The talar joint implant, which uses high-tech materials and technology, not only has a support function, but can also allow for the patient to regain normal mobility.”

18)      Wal-Mart-Mobile Payment Service

You would think the US would be relatively advanced in things like credit card validation. They are not: chip cards are only now rolling out and “tap” payments don’t even seem to be on the radar. I can imagine if you don’t travel much the prospect of paying with your phone can be quite exciting. If you do travel, you’d know a lot of countries already allow you pay wirelessly. What is the advantage of Wal-Mart or Apply Pay systems over having a modern credit card validation network?

“Wal-Mart will now let you pay with its phone app at all 4,600 stores nationwide. The effort is part of Wal-Mart’s strategy to make shopping easier and faster, while learning more about consumer behavior. With Wal-Mart Pay, the customer uses the phone’s camera to scan a QR code that’s displayed at the register to charge a credit, debit or Wal-Mart gift card linked with the account. It differs from Apple, Samsung and Android Pay, which involves tapping your phone next to a payment machine with a wireless technology called NFC. In December, Wal-Mart said it would develop its own digital wallet rather than honor existing systems from Apple and others, though Wal-Mart said it isn’t ruling out third-party wallets in the future.”

19)      TP-Link forgets to register domain name, leaves config pages open to hijack

I’ve written a fair bit about how vulnerable you are to companies when they stop providing a service. In this case it was neglecting to renew domain names (which cost less than $100/yr.) which open TP-Link customers to a hack. TP-Link is a fairly reputable company so you can imagine what might happen to all your low end Internet of Things stuff.

“In common with many other vendors, TP-Link, one of the world’s biggest sellers of Wi-Fi access points and home routers, has a domain name that owners of the hardware can use to quickly get to their router’s configuration page. Unlike most other vendors, however, it appears that TP-Link has failed to renew its registration for the domain, leaving it available for anyone to buy. Any owner of the domain could feasibly use it for fake administration pages to phish credentials or upload bogus firmware. This omission was spotted by Amitay Dan, CEO of Cybermoon, and posted to the Bugtraq mailing list last week.”

20)      In a nutshell, why do a lot of developers dislike Agile?

This is good for a chuckle as it tears down the most recent fad in technology development: “agile development” or, as many know it, design by successive approximation. This is the way it usually works out: rather than telling you what they need the bosses tell you that what you have done is not what they need so you need to change it. Documentation and justification are all kind of old hat so they go out the window.

“I got hired onto a team of construction workers to build a house. We set up a meeting with Management to find out what kind of house they wanted us to build, where’s the floor plan, what it’s going to be used for, who it’s for, etc. Management said that they didn’t know all that, we should just get started. They told us that we were going to use “Agile” which means that we just work on small deliverables and build the thing incrementally. The developer team lead argued that we at least need to know how big the thing is going to be so that we can get started pouring the foundation, but Management told him they just don’t know. “What we do know,” Management said, “is that the house is going to have a bathroom. Just start there, and we’ll know more when it’s done. You have two weeks.” So we just bought a port-a-potty, and screwed around on the internet for two weeks. Management was outraged. “You call this a house? This is the worst house ever! It doesn’t even have a tv!””

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 1st 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 1st 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni




1)          Tesla driver using autopilot killed in crash

Well that didn’t take long. Many media outlets are falsely referring to this as the first death associated with a driverless or autonomous car and Tesla’s “Autopilot” is nothing of the sort. Based on the accident report it is clear the truck driver was at fault and based on Tesla’s comments it is equally clear the autobrake did not work. As is typical, the company immediately shifted blame to the driver who was foolish enough to assume the technology worked. As they did when their vehicles showed a propensity of bursting into flames after collisions they also trotted out misleading statistics: the figure they quote for million miles/death includes motorcyclists, drunk or inexperienced drivers, people not driving on divided highways, etc.. A comparable figure would be for an experienced driver operating a luxury car on a divided highway and would doubtless paint a much less rosy picture. Most likely, autobrake systems produced by companies such as Toyota, Daimler, and Volvo which do not rely on their customers to test their products probably would “notice” a truck in their path. Of course this could be a freak accident: a single data point doesn’t tell you how dangerous or slipshod a system is. I predict we won’t have to wait long for the next fatality: only 6 weeks ago we learned of another incident where a Tesla accelerated into a stopped van. I got a number of tips for this story. Thanks to my friends Duncan Stewart, Thanos Moschopoulos, and Nick Tang.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla said in a blog post entitled “A Tragic Loss.” … The company stressed the rare nature of the crash. “This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated,” Tesla said. “Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles.””

2)          How Oracle’s business as usual is threatening to kill Java

Oracle is struggling as a company, with new license sales (the only number that matters for a software company) down double digits in the past year. Whether or not they are panicking yet, Oracle’s database solutions are simply not in the toolbox for the current generation of developers. Understandably the company needs to cut back on non-money making activities such as Java. The time has come for Java to be GNU licensed or replaced.

“For months as Oracle Corporation’s attorneys have battled Google in the courts over the use of Java interfaces in Android’s Davlik programming language, Oracle’s Java development efforts have slowed. And in the case of Java EE, they’ve come to a complete halt. The outright freeze has caused concerns among companies that contribute to the Java platform and among other members of the Java community—a population that includes some of Oracle’s biggest customers. Oracle employees that worked on Java EE have told others in the community that they have been ordered to work on other things. There has also been open talk of some Java EE developers “forking” the Java platform, breaking off with their own implementation and abandoning compatibility with the 20-year-old software platform acquired by Oracle with the takeover of Sun Microsystems six years ago. Yet Oracle remains silent about its plans for Java EE even as members of the governing body overseeing the Java standard have demanded a statement from the company.”

3)          Moore’s Law and the End of the Technological Society

I don’t think Moore’s Law will end, it’s just that its slope will slow from a 30% improvement per year to a few percent, and that will happen over a few decades. Regardless, the author provides an interesting perspective and some coo charts.

“Our society has changed dramatically thanks to, among other factors, the emergence of consumer electronics and the omnipresence of computers, due to the constant improvement of their performance and the drop in price. This has been possible because, for the last 40 years, the capacity of integrated circuits has doubled every two years, according to an empirical rule known as Moore’s Law. However, several factors have conspired to make this rule begin to stop being valid. What economic and social consequences will this fact have?”

4)          Terabyte terror: It takes special databases to lasso the Internet of Things

This article ties into the earlier piece on Oracle and Java. Many modern applications deal with a lot of distributed data and that causes issues with a centralized database model. Not only are these new architectures structured differently, for the most part they are open source and free software.

“In those 4,000 Walgreens, there are something like 1 million sensors. Riptide CEO Mike Franco said that the data coming out of them runs the gamut. Some of the sensors sample data once a minute, some every 5 minutes, and others sample at 15-minute intervals. Some change values. There are no consistent time stamps, no consistent time zones, and no consistent names of data points. “It’s very, very unstructured,” Franco said. What is consistent, then? It’s all time series data—a lot of time series data. For the past three years, Walgreen’s sensor data output has equaled about 5 terabytes. Riptide knew it needed a data storage system and architecture that could scale without degrading. The single core reason it went with NoSQL was the distributed nature of Cassandra and DataStax, Franco said. “We had plenty of use cases where the data got big, hard drives filled up, so we just added more nodes, and we upgraded the hardware. Just the whole horizontal elasticity of the NoSQL database systems we’re using is the No. 1 driver for us.””

5)          Why Google could make smartphones interesting again

I don’t see how smartphones can get interesting again since there really isn’t much in the way of innovation in the space and little room for any. What Google can do is to deliver better products at power prices to get more Android devices into the hands of people who don’t have one already. I usually buy my phones directly from Google (it’s the cheapest way to get a Nexus phone) so I am keen to see what they decide to do.

“Get ready for the Google phone? According to a new report from the Telegraph, Google may be working on its own high-end smartphone and looking to compete head-to-head with Apple’s iPhone. “Now, wait a minute,” you may be saying. Google already has its own smartphones — the Nexus line of devices. Those phones are made in partnership with companies such as Huawei, LG and HTC. The Nexus program isn’t going away. But the Telegraph’s report seems to indicate that Google is looking to control more on its own. What’s not clear is whether that could be a part of the Nexus program or not. It may seem a little strange for Google to be refocusing on smartphone manufacturing now, when the growth of smartphone sales is slowing — in some cases to a halt. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

6)          Stop Using Google Trends

Immediately after Brexit there were a number of media reports which were cited over and over again which show Google Trends searches suggested people had no idea what was going on. Of course, this is probably true for some voters on either side but as this item shows Google Trends data doesn’t always mean what people think it means. Not that that means those stories will be retracted or anything – such is journalism.

“Google Trends is a very interesting product, as it gives us real-time data on how people are using Google. Google the Address Bar of the Internet, so if you need information on a topic, just type in “Euros” and you’ll have the scores and times of every game of the UEFA Euros Championship. Google can then track that interest in a topic and we can see it. But what shouldn’t you use Google Trends for? Well, until people start using it appropriately, everything.”

7)          Google’s free wifi at Indian railway stations is better than most of the country’s paid services

Google and Facebook have big dream over the long term in the developing world. The problem is that Internet infrastructure is far behind the rest of the world. This might change as 5G wireless is rolled out but until then, public WiFi is a very cost effective way of delivering broadband to the masses.

“In Mumbai, 100,000 people made use of the public wifi connection within a week of its debut. But it didn’t even take a day to attract that many users when the service launched in Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of the eastern Indian state of Odisha. “We’re seeing similar usage patterns emerge in tier II cities like Patna, Jaipur, Vishakhapatnam,” Google said. The free internet is much faster than the 3G internet that is most widely used in India. On average, users of the free railway-station internet—despite being in transit, and being limited to one hour of use per person per day—utilize 15 times more data than they would consume on 3G in a day, Google said.”

8)          Wi-Fi gets multi-gigabit, multi-user boost with upgrades to 802.11ac

WiFi is at the leading edge of wireless technology which is moving along at a remarkable place. Wireless is essentially applied math and ever improving semiconductor technology allows for implementation of ever move sophisticated techniques such as MIMO and beamforming, which leads to ever more effective power being received or delivered to the receiver and thus permitting greater data rates or range. 5G wireless will implement many of the same technologies.

“The Wi-Fi Alliance industry group is now certifying products that can deliver multi-gigabit speeds and improve coverage in dense networks by delivering data to multiple devices simultaneously. The new certification program, announced today, focuses on the so-called “Wave 2” features of the 802.11ac specification. 802.11ac is a few years old, but it includes several important features that were not available at launch. One such feature is MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, and multiple-output), which we wrote a feature on in May 2014. MU-MIMO is powered by multi-user beamforming technology that lets wireless access points send data streams to at least three users simultaneously. Without MU-MIMO, routers stream to just one device at a time but switch between them very fast so that users don’t notice a slowdown except when lots of devices are on the network.”

9)          Li-Fi, the New Frontier in Communications

Yeah, well, there are plenty of disadvantages to Li-Fi was well: both ends need to see the light. You can rely on some bouncing off walls and so on but that means a transceiver in every room, and your smartphone only works when it is out in the open. In contrast a single Wi-Fi access point can serve hundreds of square meters, you don’t need line of sight, and you can even completely conceal wireless devices. In a small area, the limitation is rarely bandwidth, especially with modern Wi-Fi such as 802.11ac.

“There are several advantages to Li-Fi. First, there is speed; the rapid flashing of the LED, imperceptible to the eye, permits speeds of theoretical transmission in the order of gigabits per second (Gbps), between 100 and 1,000 times faster than current Wi-Fi, which operates in the range of megabits per second. Some practical applications in the real world have reached 1 Gbps, but there is still much room for improvement; the speed of 224 Gbps in bidirectional communication has already been reached in the lab.”


10)      Wireless Needs To Be 10 to 100 Times Faster, Says FCC Chair

I am a firm believer that 5G wireless could become competitive with wireline wireless. MIMO and beam forming should enable very cost effective delivery of very high speeds and a fixed station is much easier to design much better than a mobile device, especially when using MIMO and beamforming.

“Proponents of the move to 5G wireless data speeds got a big boost from the government last week. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his support for a rapid move toward fifth-generation wireless technology at a speech at the National Press Club. In his “The Future of Wireless: A Vision for U.S. Leadership in a 5G World” speech, Wheeler laid out a list of the advantages of moving to 5G communication infrastructure.”

11)      What media companies don’t want you to know about ad blockers

There is a lot of truth in this article however saying that ad networks were “hijacked” is not true: there is no effort to quality control so malware distributors have no need to hijack anything: they can just become advertisers. Until advertising networks make even a small effort at quality control (which would not be that hard) ad blocking is a basic security measure.

“Thompson did not say one word in his keynote address about the significant security benefits of ad blockers, which is ironic, because his paper was one of several news organizations that served its users ransomware—a particularly vicious form of malware that encrypts the contents of your computer and forces you to pay the perpetrators a ransom in bitcoin to unlock it—through its ad networks just a few months ago. Several major news sites—including the Times, the BBC, and AOL—had their ad networks hijacked by criminal hackers who attempted to install ransomware on readers’ computers.”

12)      Students are demanding the facts about coding bootcamps

The for-profit education sector is never shy to separated students from their money and it gets a lot easier when there is a supply/demand imbalance in the labor market as there is for software development right now. Setting aside the quality of the education the claims are, quite frankly, impossible to believe: a 100% placement rate? Why not claim 110%? Either way, when supply catches up with demand a lot of these people will be missing a checkmark on their resume and they will find it hard to find employment.

“In 2012 coding bootcamps began offering courses in software development and promising graduates new careers in technology. The schools, now backed by hundreds of millions in VC funding, will educate about 30,000 students in 2016, and rake in just shy of half a billion in tuition fees. Most schools claim nearly 100% graduation and placement rates. But these claims are mostly unverified and just how schools arrive at them largely undisclosed. Prospective students look to outcomes statistics because it’s the only way to gauge their chances for success — bootcamps don’t have decades or centuries of reputations like colleges.”

13)      Spotify says Apple won’t approve a new version of its app because it doesn’t want competition for Apple Music

Frankly it is hard to care about which side is right on this: Apple maintains “walled garden” and it alone decides what apps people can run on iPhones. Spotify appears to be trying to break the mold and is claiming that Apple is “afraid of competition”, which is probably the case, except Apple is a particularly mercenary corporation and they will do whatever they can to make money.

“Spotify says Apple is making it harder for the streaming music company to compete by blocking a new version of its iPhone app. In a letter sent this week to Apple’s top lawyer, Spotify says Apple is “causing grave harm to Spotify and its customers” by rejecting an update to Spotify’s iOS app. The letter says Apple turned down a new version of the app while citing “business model rules” and demanded that Spotify use Apple’s billing system if “Spotify wants to use the app to acquire new customers and sell subscriptions.””

14)      99-Million-Year-Old Bird Wings Found Encased in Amber

It is amazing what they find preserved in amber. I found it particularly interesting that birds appeared about 150 million years ago – for some reason I thought they diverged about 80 million years ago. It is worthwhile to look through the slide show.

“While birds and dinosaurs are related, the giant lizards didn’t directly evolve into modern birds. The first ancient birds began appearing during the Late Jurassic Period about 150 million years ago and then spent millions of years flapping in the shadows of their larger cousins. While scientists have uncovered many ancient bird fossils over the years, they are rarely very clear because their feathers and hollow bones don’t hold up nearly as well to the fossilization process as mammals, lizards, and the like, Kristin Romey reports for National Geographic. For the most part, researchers have had to make do with faint imprints of wings left behind in rock and amber.”

15)      Mystery file in preview build hints at Windows 10 subscriptions

I figure the major reason Microsoft is giving free Windows 10 updates is that they are trying to extend their Software as a Service (SaaS) model across their entire customer base. Most likely they will maintain a sort of basic Windows architecture and charge subscription fees for new features and functionality. They already do this for many business customers so it is not much of a stretch.

“The latest preview builds of Windows 10 include a small mystery. Buried in the System32 folder of build 14376, alongside 590 other .exe files, is a file whose name is guaranteed to raise eyebrows: UpgradeSubscription.exe. That file has been part of other recent preview builds, but has managed to remain under the radar until now. In the file’s properties, it’s described as the Windows Upgrade to Subscription Tool, and its date and time stamp corresponds to other administrative tools in the same build. See for yourself:”

16)      Google Found Disastrous Symantec and Norton Vulnerabilities That Are ‘As Bad As It Gets’

Symantec and Norton represent the old way of preventing malware attacks: namely build a wall and hope people don’t get through it. It didn’t work for the Maginot Line and it no longer works for more sophisticate malware. The fact these vulnerabilities were found is not surprising.

“Google’s “project zero” team, a group of security analysts tasked with hunting for computer bugs, discovered a heap of critical vulnerabilities in Symantec and Norton security products. The flaws allow hackers to completely compromise people’s machines simply by sending them malicious self-replicating code through unopened emails or un-clicked links. The vulnerabilities affect millions of people who run the company’s endpoint security and antivirus software, rather ironically to protect their devices. Indeed, the flaws rendered all 17 enterprise products (Symantec brand) and eight consumer and small business products (Norton brand) open to attack.”

17)      Large botnet of CCTV devices knock the snot out of jewelry website

Internet of Things (IoT) devices tend to have pretty shoddy security, a fact worth noting because many of them are sitting inside your firewall. The most recent largescale hack shows how a lack of security can be used to run a bot net (when they aren’t interested in stealing your bank information). Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Researchers have encountered a denial-of-service botnet that’s made up of more than 25,000 Internet-connected closed circuit TV devices. The researchers with Security firm Sucuri came across the malicious network while defending a small brick-and-mortar jewelry shop against a distributed denial-of-service attack. The unnamed site was choking on an assault that delivered almost 35,000 HTTP requests per second, making it unreachable to legitimate users. When Sucuri used a network addressing and routing system known as Anycast to neutralize the attack, the assailants increased the number of HTTP requests to 50,000 per second. The DDoS attack continued for days, causing the Sucuri researchers to become curious about the origins of the attack. They soon discovered the individual devices carrying out the attack were CCTV boxes that were connected to more than 25,500 different IP addresses. The IP addresses were located in no fewer than 105 countries around the world.”

18)      Hackers steal $10 million from a Ukrainian bank through SWIFT loophole

This isn’t the first profitable use of SWIFT by hackers. Lucky for the hackers, as the article relates the banks are not keen to share information on the hacks which makes it ever harder for countermeasures to be developed.

“The organization said that such hacks usually take months to complete. After breaking into a financial institution’s internal networks, hackers will take time to study the bank’s internal processes and controls. Then, using the knowledge and access they have gathered, the hackers will begin to submit fraudulent money orders to webs of offshore companies, allowing them to siphon off millions of dollars. ISACA said that the hackers likely used publicly available information and tools to commit the theft. The organization also added that the same hack had likely spread to other banks in the Ukrainian financial system. “Banks now are not sharing such information at all and are afraid of publicity,” said Aleksey Yankovsky, head of ISACA’s Kyiv division.”

19)      Diabetes Breakthrough Nears With Medtronic’s Artificial Pancreas

Diabetics try to control their condition through timely blood assays and, in many cases, insulin injections. The pancreas doesn’t work every few hours: it provides continuous control and feedback and that is the advantage of this device. It still seems a bit clunky and requires frequent replacement and recalibration of sensors but it is probably a big improvement over traditional approaches.

“While innovations in recent years made monitoring and injecting insulin easier, the potential approval of the MiniMed 670G would mark the first time that diabetics could turn over part of their daily routine to a machine. It measures blood sugar every five minutes and automatically administers or withholds micro-doses of insulin to keep patients in their target range. “Patients are working 24 hours a day now,” said Richard Bergenstal, executive director of Park Nicollet’s International Diabetes Center in Minneapolis, who led the trial. “We want them to get control without spending every hour of the day worrying about their diabetes or preparing for the next event.””

20)      Testing for malaria—or cancer—at home, via cheap paper strips

The technology is interesting but the problem with medical tests is often not as much detecting something as false positives. So if 1,000 people test themselves you can end up with far more cancer or malaria scares than actual sick people.

“What if testing yourself for cancer or other diseases were as easy as testing your blood sugar or taking a home pregnancy test? In a few years, it might be. Chemists at The Ohio State University are developing paper strips that detect diseases including cancer and malaria—for a cost of 50 cents per strip. The idea, explained Abraham Badu-Tawiah, is that people could apply a drop of blood to the paper at home and mail it to a laboratory on a regular basis—and see a doctor only if the test comes out positive. The researchers found that the tests were accurate even a month after the blood sample was taken, proving they could work for people living in remote areas.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 24th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 24th 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni




1)          SolarCity stock soars 15% on $2.8 billion Tesla bid; TSLA plunges

This made my week: setting aside the fact it demonstrates a complete lack of anything resembling corporate governance at Tesla (being as Musk is a major shareholder of both companies and relatives also have major holdings of Solar City) not even the most powerful hallucinogen could suggest the two companies – both are prodigious destroyers of capital – have anything in common besides increasingly imaginative “non-GAAP” financial presentation and a firm attachment to the taxpayer’s teat. There is no significant intellectual property or barriers to entry to either business and no reasonable prospects they will survive once investors stop giving them money to burn. Perhaps the view is that somehow investment banks, recognizing that a combined company will require even larger and more frequent injections of capital will offer a volume discount for share issues.

“Tesla Motors said on Tuesday it would bid $2.8 billion to buy SolarCity, sending the solar energy company’s shares soaring. SolarCity shares popped more than 15 percent after-hours on the offer of $26.50 per share to $28.50 per share, while Tesla shares dropped as much as 10 percent, trading below $200 per share for the first time since March. SolarCity’s controlling shareholder, Elon Musk, is also the CEO of electric car company Tesla. The two sets of shareholders will vote on the merger independent of Musk after a due diligence process, the Tesla CEO said.”

2)          Microsoft Corporation Offers ‘Refresh Windows 10 Tool’ To Remove Bloatware

If you want to buy a Windows based laptop a direct purchase from Microsoft has been a pretty good choice: the prices are competitive and the systems have much less bloatware, unlike if you buy a Pc near anywhere else. There are third party bloatware removers and you can do a clean reinstall of Windows 10, but this tool would be a welcome solution for everybody but the bloatware vendors and the PC vendors they pay to install their garbage.

“Microsoft Corporation has been developing and testing a new tool to effectively allow users to remove all unnecessary software and bloatware on a system with a touch of a button. It is known as the Refresh Windows 10 Tool, also known as Start Fresh, and is expected to make its way to the next build of Windows 10. It is currently already available to users using preview builds as part of Microsoft’s Windows 10 Insider Program. The tool, however, is essentially a one-stop shop that offers the option to users to keep key files and personal data on the computer when it is being scrubbed clean, much like an actual installation of Windows would in prior versions. The tool is not only expected to help in the case of malware infecting a system, but is also going to be a key aspect of users getting the “Vanilla” Windows 10 experience.”

3)          FCC lays out its big 5G push

Note that this story is not so much about 5G wireless as it is about opening up new spectrum in the near millimeter to millimeter bands (18GHz and up). That is useful for 5G but 5G can work in lower bands as well. The thing with new spectrum is that there is a lot of it and new techniques such as MIMO and beamforming help get around a lot of the challenges of going to higher carrier frequencies. Regardless, there is no scarcity of spectrum, except as manufactured by governments and the companies they license to.

“The FCC plans to use 200 MHz-wide chunks of high-band spectrum because, unlike lower frequencies, it can offer the gigabit per second throughput and sub-millisecond latency that 5G applications demand. 5G will usher in an Internet of Everything, Wheeler told the Press Club. “If something can be connected, it will be connected in a 5G world.” Wheeler cited various remote operation scenarios, such as surgeons using VR to operate on patients hundreds of miles away, to illustrate the need for ultrafast wireless connectivity. He expects the commission’s research to be completed and the proposal ready for a vote by July 14th. Should it be adopted, America would become the first nation on Earth to actively reserve frequency for 5G development.”

4)          Google Fiber is buying high-speed internet provider Webpass to expand its reach in cities

This seems significant but it is hard to say. Webpass seems to be a tiny play and it isn’t exactly clear they have any proprietary expertise (pretty much anybody can buy the same equipment from the same suppliers). So it could just being a cash rich company helping out a friend (it happens) or a sign that Google is stepping up its game as an ISP. One thing of note is that the North American wired Internet business is largely absent meaningful competition so there is lots of potential money to be made if you offer an alternative. Unfortunately, corrupt regulators have erected legal barriers to protect incumbents so success is not assured.

“To take on the big internet service providers, Google Fiber is scooping up a small one. On Wednesday, Google Fiber announced plans to acquire Webpass, a high-speed, fiber internet provider serving five cities. The deal, should regulators approve it, would be the first acquisition for the broadband unit under Alphabet and another signal of its ambition to become a competitive national player in the industry. Google Fiber also made the deal to boost its efforts to deliver broadband internet wirelessly, an experimental tech it hopes will expand coverage at cheaper costs. Financial terms were not disclosed. Webpass, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2003, is privately held. It only shares that it has customers in the “tens of thousands.””

5)          Self-driving cars to disrupt auto insurance industry

Yes, there will be some level of disruption but the transition to self-driving cars will only start in 15 to 20 years so there is no need to panic. Meanwhile advanced safety systems such as auto-brake should lead to a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of accidents. Even so, the reduction will be relative to the proportion of the fleet thus equipped and it will take about a decade before the effects become that material.

“”It’s sort of an incremental development on the road to where cars can actually drive themselves,” said Robert Passmore, assistant vice-president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. That means insurance issues may initially grow more complex — but possibly much simpler later on, when human-caused accidents mostly disappear. “This changes the basic assumptions under which insurance is written,” said Edward Cohen, vice-president of government and industry relations at Honda, which tests driverless cars at the Concord Naval Weapons Station site. “If you’re in a crashless world, or if the number of crashes is severely reduced through the use of technology … that model would need to be re-evaluated.””

6)          Toyota to build artificial intelligence-based driving systems in five years

AI sounds sort of scary but pretty much AI is how any advanced safety system is likely to work. What is interesting is that Toyota seems to have joined the pack of companies working toward autonomous vehicle development even though they recognize that much of the payoff will come as safety systems continue to improve, with full autonomy about 20 years off.

“Toyota Motor Corp is targeting developing in the next five years driver assistance systems that integrate artificial intelligence (AI) to improve vehicle safety, the head of its advanced research division said. Gill Pratt, CEO of recently set up Toyota Research Institute (TRI), the Japanese automaker’s research and development company that focuses on AI, said it aims to improve car safety by enabling vehicles to anticipate and avoid potential accident situations. Toyota has said the institute will spend $1 billion over the next five years, as competition to develop self-driving cars intensifies.”

7)          Self-driving tractors and data science: we visit a modern farm

Off-road autonomous vehicles in applications such as mining and farming are likely to become mainstream long before highway use as the payback is immediate. This article is more about GPS guidance and data accumulation than about “self-driving” tractors. It can be hard to exactly line up implements because they are so big so there is, by necessity, a lot of overlap when plowing, seeding, etc.. Simple GPS solutions can have a big impact on productivity and save fuel.

“”The combine has load sensors in it that sense the volume of crop coming in, recording that as you go across the field,” Rose said. That tells him how many bushels per acre each field is producing, data that gets fed into multi-year maps of each field that are color-coded to indicate different yields. “We take several years of data and make composite maps of a given field, then divide it into zones. You can manage those zones individually—taking soil samples to measure nutrient levels, and from there you know how much nutrients you need to apply in different areas,” he told Ars. The next big thing after yield monitors was AutoTrac, which companies like John Deere have had in the market for quite a bit longer than the semi-autonomous cars starting to drive our roads. “We were solving a different problem than the autonomous car problem,” explained Lane Arthur, Director of Information Solutions at John Deere. “Cars have to do with staying on the road and the right distance from other cars. In the John Deere world we focused on autonomous machines that are driving in a field. So the field has a boundary around it, and what path will it take in that field. We use GPS signals to drive the vehicle; the customer sets an A-B line which determines the path the vehicle takes.””

8)          Why Uber Keeps Raising Billions

This article reads like it was written by their investment bankers but I think we can cut to the chase: Uber raises money because it is in an inherently unprofitable business with zero likelihood of providing a return on investment, let alone a return of investment. At the same time, the investors hope enough lipstick can be slathered over the pig to make it to an IPO where they can unload their shares to unsuspecting rubes. But the bankers wouldn’t put that in an article.

“If you add up all the money Uber has raised since it started in 2009 — the idea was born when its founders became annoyed that they could not get a cab in Paris — the ride-hailing app company is on its way to amassing a colossal $15 billion. That’s real cash, not some funny-money, paper-based valuation. (That figure is $68 billion.) It has done all this while still managing to remain a private company, and its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, has insisted that a public offering is not coming soon. “I’m going to make sure it happens as late as possible,” he has repeatedly said.”

9)          World’s Fastest Supercomputer Now Has Chinese Chip Technology

It seems quite clear that the Chinese government is keen on going upmarket in technology, much as the Japanese did in the 1970s and the Koreans in the 1980s. Their efforts to buy semiconductor companies has mostly been frustrated by US national security concerns but that should not be a major problem for them as they can build the industry up over a decade regardless. Since their near term objective is probably not profitability this could put pressure on pricing across the industry.

“In a threat to U.S. technology dominance, the world’s fastest supercomputer is powered by Chinese-designed semiconductors for the first time. It’s a breakthrough for China’s attempts to reduce dependence on imported technology. The Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer, located at the state-funded Chinese Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, is more than twice as powerful as the previous winner, according to TOP500, a research organization that compiles the rankings twice a year. The machine is powered by a SW26010 processor designed by Shanghai High Performance IC Design Center, TOP500 said Monday.”

10)      Siemens says it can power unlimited-range electric trucks using a 150-year-old technology

Diesel engines are pretty efficient but they don’t do well in stop/start type traffic. That’s why it would make much better environmental sense to reserve HEV lanes for diesel trucks rather than cars with 2 or more people in them, but that would also be political suicide. In any event, unlike battery powered EVs this would probably make a lot of environmental sense and have a decent payback on the investment. Streetcars stop when they lose contact with the grid but these trucks would have relatively small batteries and could keep going until another connection could be established.

“The world’s cargo fleet is moving from fossil fuels to electrons. But powering them won’t be simple. With today’s technology, driving a semi-truck 500 miles (804 kilometers) would require a 23-ton lithium-ion battery, half the weight of the truck itself. Fuel cells would need a massive, $2 million hydrogen fuel tank to go the distance. Embedding wireless charging coils in roadbed would be expensive and inefficient. But an invention first deployed in 1870 to power trains and streetcars might be the perfect fit: catenary, overhead electrical wires commonly found around the world. The German engineering company Siemens, presenting at an electric vehicle conference in Montreal this month, argues it can power unlimited-distance electric trucks with intermittent overhead wires that provide enough energy for fast-moving, long-haul highway journeys.”

11)      Creepy? Facebook now tracking you in stores

It’s only a matter of time before Facebook users are required to submit DNA samples and have a tracker implanted in their heads. I’ve never been a member and was only on LinkedIn long enough to figure out how to close my account, but I don’t see the attraction of the service, so that must make me biased. As for anonymity, well, good luck with that: assuming Facebook follows its usual pattern that will be removed and disabling it will be of such complexity nobody will be able to do it without a precise step by step guide.

“”Hello, welcome back to The Gap! How did those assorted tank tops work out for you?,” an animated hologram shouts to Cruise’s character as he enters. It sounded far-fetched … until now. Ad exec Lauren Doyle, of Cincinnati’s Wordsworth Communications, says Facebook’s new tracking feature called “Local Awareness” is not sitting well with some people, especially older people. “For some generations, that’s really uncomfortable,” she said. Using your phone’s location services, it  targets users near a store, then tracks to see if you visit that business.”

12)      Ad Blocking to Grow 34% This Year to Nearly 70 Million U.S. Web Users

You can’t do much to protect yourself from Facebook if you are a member but you can do something about the distraction, fraud, and malware associated with most online advertising as more and more people are figuring out. The root of this problem is not ad blocking but the fact the online advertising industry is the “Wild West”. Eventually they’ll figure out that they have to have some standards or people will simply block ads. Some web sites have responded by blocking access to ad block users but that is not much of a burden since even most media is derivative and somebody out there has the exact same content without an ad blocker.

“Publishers would love internet users to decide that, actually, they don’t need to install an ad-blocker on their browser of choice. But a new report from research firm eMarketer suggested on Tuesday that there’s no such hope on the horizon. U.S. internet users running ad blockers will grow this year to 69.8 million, or 26.3% of web users in the U.S., from 51.9 million, or 20%, last year, eMarketer said. In 2017, ad-blocking web surfers in the U.S. will total 86.6 million, or 32%.”

13)      Computer science grads are playing it safe instead of trying to help build the next big thing

There is absolutely no reason why computer science graduates should be concerned about anything else but their own income. Building “the next big thing” is mostly an illusion entrepreneurs dangle in front of young developers to get them to work harder for less money. Less than 10% of startups survive for more than a few years and a tiny fraction of employees of those which do survive end up rich. The little money that ends up in the pockets of hardworking employees at successful startups is there only because the investors couldn’t contrive a scheme to keep that money for themselves.

“Harj Taggar, CEO of tech recruiting startup Triplebyte, says that taking risks is the only way for aspiring programmers to make it big. He asks all graduates one question: Do you want a 90% chance of earning $1.1 million at big tech firms or a 10% chance of earning $10 million at a smaller startup? “As a software engineer, you’ll always have the opportunity to make $1.1 million because there’ll always be a big company willing to hire you and pay a big salary,” Taggar told Quartz. “What you might not always have is the 10% opportunity, because it becomes harder to join an early stage startup—now we’re talking more like 1999 Google—as you become older.” Some to-be mammoths on Taggar’s list are Airbnb, Dropbox, Uber, and Stripe.”

14)      Cryptocurrency raider takes $60 million in digital cash

What a shock! A new cryptocurrency, a new “theft”, except it isn’t really theft because there is no legal basis to prove ownership of cryptocurrency, let alone a legal basis to charge anybody. The idea that the currency will be modified so the “thief” won’t be able to use his ill-gotten gains is a sign of how arbitrary the whole this is to begin with.

“The kicker? People were convinced that the bug posed no risk to DAO funds just a few days prior. Clearly, that wasn’t true. While the invader didn’t get away scot-free, the breach has caused a lot of chaos. And while one person’s claims that they legitimately took the funds is sketchy, Bloomberg notes that the code defining the smart contracts may have explicitly allowed this attack even if that’s not what the DAO wanted. This may not be so much a hack as exploitation of poorly-defined terms, and there may not be a legal recourse. In short: basing an investment framework around code instead of human-made contracts may have been too optimistic.”

15)      Taking the headphone jack off phones is user-hostile and stupid

Hey, if you want to pay 2 to 3x the going rate for a smart phone you aren’t going to get my sympathy when Apple decides you need an expensive adapter or expensive headphones to use it. Apple is in the business of fleecing its customers for whatever it can and a proprietary headphone is pretty much what you would expect. Whether or not it is good for the customers is the least of Apple’s concerns.

“Look, I know you’re going to tell me that the traditional TRS headphone jack is a billion years old and prone to failure and that life is about progress and whatever else you need to repeat deliriously into your bed of old HTC extUSB dongles and insane magnetic Palm adapters to sleep at night. But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways. Let’s count them!”

16)      WSJ: iPhone 7 w/ similar design and removed headphone jack this fall, major changes next year

The first story I saw about this claimed Apple is going to a 3 year major product release cycle and I though “wow – so their phones will now be 2 – 3 years out of date rather than 1-2 years out of date”. This move is a good money saver for Apple as it means a lower R&D budget and it can continue selling out of date hardware for longer so its margins will stay high. The wild card will be customer loyalty: while there are true believers who won’t buy anything else, a lot of consumers are going to find it hard to justify paying a premium for an obsolete product. Time will tell whether loyalty wins out over rational economic behavior.

“iPhone 7 rumors have been notably tame this year, and that’s because the next-generation iPhone is widely expected to be a further revision to the iPhone 6 series and not a radically different design. The Wall Street Journal is the latest to report on Apple’s expected plans for the iPhone 7, describing a situation where the iPhone 7 closely resembles the iPhone 6s minus the headphone jack. WSJ reports that this will result in a thinner design that’s more water-resistant than current models.”

17)      Supreme Court sends off patent troll that challenged review rules with an 8-0 slapdown

The case is pretty esoteric but the observation that patent trolls set bad precedent for patent licensing companies when they get to the Supreme Court is an important one. First, it shows that the pendulum has been swinging away from patent licensing companies and towards their targets (not all patent licensing companies are bad, and many targets are IP thieves). Second it is a signal to lower courts what will likely happen if a case gets to the Supreme Court. Most likely you’ll see fewer lower courts cases in favor of IP licensors and fewer appeals by licensors.

“Patent trolls don’t fare well at the Supreme Court. When they show up, their cases tend to result in decisions that are ruinous for the profit margins of their industry. Two prominent examples: the 2006 eBay v. MercExchange case effectively ended trolls’ abilities to get injunctions, and the 2014 Alice Corp. case made it far easier for patent defendants to invalidate abstract software patents. And yet, the cases keep coming. The most recent example is Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC v. Lee, a case that was resolved earlier this week with an 8-0 opinion dismantling arguments presented by Cuozzo, a patent-holding entity controlled by two New York patent lawyers, Daniel Mitry and Timothy Salmon. The two attorneys own dozens of other patent shell companies through their consultancy, Empire IP.”

18)      FAA Announces Commercial Drone Rules

These seem like pretty reasonable rules especially since a 55 pound drone falling from any height will kill or seriously injure somebody. Unless the FAA comes out with a special rule which allows delivery drones to kill people it should be clear that these rules make drone delivery service almost impossible since each drone would have to remain in sight of an operator.

“This week, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced new safety regulations for unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) that are conducting non-hobbyist operations. In other words, the pilots and drones shooting your wedding video, trailing a snowboarder to catch the best trick as seen from above, or taking aerial footage of the horse ranch for sale in the next county now have dictates to follow. … The FAA promised that sometime in the spring of this year, they’d announce a streamlined registration process for commercial sUAS. Technically, they missed spring by a couple days, but the new commercial drone rules are finally here. In short, if you’re making money with your drone—by taking pictures or videos with it or whatever—and it weighs less than 25 kg but more than 0.25 kg, these are the rules that with apply to you. They’re slightly different from the rules for recreational hobby drones, so it’s worth browsing what’s new …”

19)      Gartner: Cloud will be the “default option” for software deployment by 2020

I find Gartner’s forecasts to be pretty useless but they are probably directionally correct on this one even if the time horizon is a bit optimistic. Many software vendors are going to “Software as a Service” which pretty much locks customers in to a perpetual license and that generally works off cloud based hardware. It also means things stop working once you lose Internet access. Similarly a lot of IT departments are going to be downsized as all their servers, etc., are pushed into the cloud. I don’t think it’s a good thing but it is the way things are headed.

“Researchers at Gartner are out this week with new predictions on what the infrastructure computing market will look like in the coming years. And they’re very bullish on the cloud. The combination of end users gaining comfort with using cloud services combined with vendors shifting to primarily offering software from the cloud means that cloud will be the dominate software deployment model within three and a half years. “Cloud will increasingly be the default option for software deployment,” says Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner, who adds that even custom-designed software that once used to be housed primarily on customers’ premises is moving to the cloud.”

20)      Jake Dyson invents light bulb that lasts 37 years

I associate the brand name Dyson with expensive, unreliable, and overhyped garbage. That is not being fair to the son, I admit, however what we have here is a slightly improved heatsink where a cheaper solution would simply be to replace the LED every 10 to 20 years. After all an LED lamp is likely to go out of style long before the LED stops working.

“Well, it takes just one engineer to change a light bulb. Jake Dyson is on a mission to revolutionise the lighting industry in the way his father, James Dyson, turned the vacuum cleaner sector on his head. The apple did not fall far from the tree, and Jake Dyson too is putting innovation and superior engineering at the heart of his new lighting product line. LEDs are theoretically built to deliver impressive life spans but in typical lighting fixtures, inadequate cooling takes the junction temperature to 130 degC. This damages the phosphorous coating thus delivering progressively poorer light over time – and the hotter they run, the faster they die. To solve this problem, Dyson looked beyond heatsinks and traditional cooling systems and at the way heatpipes are used to cool microprocessors and components in satellites.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 17th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 17th 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni



1)          New paper claims that the EM Drive doesn’t defy Newton’s 3rd law after all

The EM Drive is an electric propulsion unit which is most likely a sort of measurement error. Nevertheless, until it is fully figured out it is intriguing: the device appears to generate a small amount of “thrust” with only electricity and no moving parts. Even though the thrust is small it is continuous and could lead to very high speeds in a spacecraft because of that. This finding, if confirmed, may explain the phenomenon and perhaps even lead to more optimised versions. Of course until it is explained, skepticism is called for.

“Physicists have just published a new paper that suggests the controversial EM drive – or electromagnetic drive – could actually work, and doesn’t defy Newton’s third law after all. In case you’ve missed the hype, here’s a quick catch-up: a lot of space lovers are freaking out about the EM drive because of claims it could get humans to Mars in just 10 weeks, but just as many are sick of hearing about it, because, on paper at least, it doesn’t work within the laws of physics. Despite that not-insignificant setback, the EM drive shows no signs of quitting, and test after test – including trials by NASA scientists at the Eagleworks lab, and an independent researcher in Germany – has conceded that the propulsion system, somehow, does produce thrust.”

2)          Shipping delays continue to dog Apple’s 4″ iPhone SE

It is hard what to make of this news. In general, you never want a tech product to be in short supply because the value of any gadget declines rapidly with time. It could be that, as management suggest, people are abandoning more featured, less expensive Android phone in favor of the iPhone SE, or that people who have never owned a smartphone make this their first purchase. Alternatively, the device could be cannibalizing sales of even more expensive iPhones. I guess we’ll find out when they report their quarterly results.

“As of this week’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, U.S. Apple retail stores are still reporting two-plus-week wait times for new orders of the 4-inch iPhone SE. The handset launched in late March and supply has been constrained ever since. In April, rumblings from Apple’s supply chain claimed that Apple had increased orders for the iPhone SE, planning to build more than 5 million units in the quarter to keep up with demand. Those efforts, if accurate, don’t appear to have paid off yet, with demand continuing to outstrip supply into the summer.”

3)          Verizon Offers LG K8 V Smartphone for $94 for a Limited Time

All US carriers ended the “contract and subsidy” business model early in 2016. This means that consumers pay full price for their phones, though the carriers do offer financing for those with good credit. It also opened the doors to real price competition in the US smartphone market as exemplified by this offer: even at $144 you are getting a pretty capable phone. I am convinced consumers who are faced for the first time with the sizeable cost of premium devices like iPhone will chose phones more in line with their budgets.

“The latest LG smartphone, the K8 V, is an Android handset that’s just been launched exclusively through Verizon Wireless, with a 5-inch LCD HD touch-screen display, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a budget-friendly price tag of $144. Making it even more desirable for prospective buyers is that for a limited time, Verizon is shaving $50 off that price for online buyers, bringing it down to $94. The K8 V has some useful capabilities, too, including that it is a CDMA phone that can also be used internationally as a world phone on GSM and UMTS networks, according to Verizon.”

4)          Tesla to clarify how customers may disclose problems

If the only thing I knew about Tesla was how they treated dissatisfied customers I would never do business with them. The model is apparent: when all else fails and the consumer refuses to comply publicly slander them and lie if you have to – in this case claiming the problem was due to the guy living on a dirt road (the first lie) as if, even if true, that somehow mattered (the second lie). As for “37 of 40 suspension complaints to NHTSA were fraudulent, i.e. false location or vehicle identification numbers were used”, well if you forced people to sign non-disclosure agreements and refuse to release the data I guess we should believe you: after all you wouldn’t lie would you? And fraudulent suspension complaints have to be a big problem for the NHTSA.

“Tesla said Thursday the car with over 70,000 miles had abnormal rust and that the Pennsylvania owner lived down such a long dirt road that it required two tow trucks to retrieve the car. The owner said the car had only been on a dirt road once or twice, and Musk later conceded to The Wall Street Journal that Tesla had erred in saying the owner lived on a dirt road. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said on Thursday that the agency was reviewing the nondisclosure agreements to see if they had impeded owners from making complaints.”

5)          Volvo R&D Chief on Tesla’s Autopilot: “I’m Convinced It’s Trying to Kill Me”

I see all kinds of fawning praise for Tesla’s “autopilot” and yet when it fails the explanation is in the fine print. It is in the best interests of Tesla to promote its stock because without regular capital injections the company will quickly die, however that doesn’t mean they have things figured out. Volvo is a real car company and their insights as to the state of the art are relevant.

“Volvo has never shied from being first in safety. Company engineer Nils Bohlin introduced the three-point safety belt in 1959, an innovation estimated to have saved more than one million lives. The year 1972 brought the first rear-facing child seat. Side airbags and rollover protection, plus autonomous braking for cars, pedestrians, and now large animals—all Volvo firsts. So when the Swedish automaker has something to say about keeping people alive in cars, the world listens. And here’s what Dr. Peter Mertens, Volvo’s esteemed research and development chief, has to say about Tesla’s ballyhooed Autopilot system: “Every time I drive (Autopilot), I’m convinced it’s trying to kill me”

6)          California lawmakers unplug the state’s electric car program

They’ll probably sort it out eventually but this sort of development shows what is really behind the “success” of electric vehicles: taxpayer money. If they wanted to do something about the environment they could, for example, subsidize cars with smaller engines. Instead they are paying people to buy cars which will be worthless when the batteries crap out in a few years. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

Note: LA Times has a wonky website. If you want to read the article and it only shows a subscription option, clear your browser cookies.

“Lua’s experience is exactly what Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers were aiming to achieve when they decided to spend money from the state’s greenhouse gas reduction fund on subsidizing the purchase of low- and zero-emission vehicles. But now they’re cutting off the cash, the result of a political impasse and questions over the future of the state’s climate change programs. Without the funds, California could have a harder time meeting its ambitious goals for getting cleaner vehicles on the roads and protecting public health in smog-ridden areas of the state.”

7)          Volkswagen bets big on electric cars

Whether or not you are skeptical on the outlook for EVs as I am, the fact is that all they are is cars with a battery. The tricky bit isn’t the rest of the car – and actual car makers would have an advantage there – it is the battery. Since batteries are commodities and easily reverse engineered, no EV vendor would have an advantage over any other EV vendor. This is just another reason to question Tesla’s $32B market value.

“The strategy overhaul met a skeptical audience in Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, who questioned whether Volkswagen can achieve swift cultural changes and dramatic product transformation while cutting costs. What’s more, serious questions about the mass-market viability of electric vehicles remain. “Certainly electric vehicles are coming,” Nerad said. But “there’s no general consumer groundswell for electric vehicles.” Volkswagen may also find itself with split loyalties between its diesel cars, a favorite of European car buyers and some American consumers, and the need to develop electric vehicles. “Diesel is so deeply entrenched in Europe,” he said. “That’s the home field for Volkswagen. It’s hard to imagine they would step away from that.””

8)          Intel lets slip roadmap for Optane SSDs with 1,000X performance

Optane, or 3D Crosspoint memory could be a revolution in semiconductor storage: it is much faster than flash used in Solid State Drives, and has much longer duty cycles. Unfortunately the missing parameter is cost: we have no idea how much more expensive than flash Optane will be and that makes a big difference for its adoption.

“Optane technology is primarily a mass storage-class memory that, while slower, is still cheaper to produce than DRAM and faster than NAND. Significantly, it’s non-volatile, so when the power goes off, the data remains intact, just as it does with NAND flash. … At its Intel Developers Forum in Shenzhen, China, the company said Optane has up to 10X the density of NAND flash and will enable SSDs to store more than a terabyte of data in an M.2 card that is only 1.5 millimeters thick.”

9)          Report claims Intel CPUs contain enormous security flaw

Hmmm. A mysterious, undocumented, processor inside some Intel chips that nobody can figure out whether it is secure or not. It’s almost the sort of thing you’d expect a company to include if it were colluding with the national security establishment as we know all major US tech companies are doing.

“A new article on BoingBoing argues that Intel’s implementation of the IME and the microcontroller that runs it are fundamentally insecure, cannot be trusted, and could be used to perform potentially devastating exploits. Intel has publicly revealed very little about the precise function of its onboard microprocessor and the security system that guards it — and that, in turn, means that the company is essentially relying on security through obscurity to secure its own standard. Concerns about IME and AMT are nothing new; Joanna Rutkowska discussed vulnerabilities found in a much earlier version of the standard in 2009, and research into exactly how the Intel Management Engine secures data and maintains a trusted environment has been ongoing for years.”

10)      Chattanooga Mayor Says City’s Gigabit Network (Which Comcast Tried To Kill) To Thank For City’s Revival

Of course, the guy is probably talking his own book but the comments regarding the regulatory context for telecommunications is telling. Unlike wireless, these are regulated at the state and local level, and politicians have no doubt pocketed large bribes (I prefer to believe they are corrupt rather than stupid) to ensure that any regulation around telecoms is to prevent meaningful competition. As per item 11 it is just another example of Soviet style economics selectively applied.

“But if you’ve been playing along at home, regional incumbents like AT&T and Comcast almost kept EPB’s network from ever being built. In 2008 Comcast unsuccessfully sued EPB to prevent the city’s plan from taking root. AT&T and Comcast are also behind a state law preventing EPB from expanding, one of nineteen such laws lobbied for by incumbent ISPs to maintain the apathetic broadband status quo. We’ve noted how state leaders (like Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, a former AT&T executive) have rushed to the defense of the state’s broadband duopoly and their protectionist law. The pretense usually involves these politicians insisting they’re just trying to protect taxpayers from themselves, ignoring the fact that letting AT&T and Comcast lawyers literally writing bad state telecom law has resulted in Tennessee being one of the least connected states in the nation.”

11)      Cable Industry Proclaims More Competition ‘Hurts Consumers’ & ‘Damages Economic Efficiency’

You can readily imagine the horrors competition would inflict on any business: customers would have a choice and prices would come down. A Soviet-style economic system such as that enjoyed by the telecommunications sector in North America is one reason why rates are among the highest in the world while service quality is among the lowest. North American telecommunications companies are among the most profitable for some reason.

“In a filing by the American Cable Association (ACA, pdf), the organization’s lawyers try to claim that not only would an influx of competition somehow harm consumers, the group claims that adding competitors to what are frequently stagnant markets will somehow “damage economic efficiency”: “That overbuild condition is unlawful. It is not tailored to mitigate a merger-specific harm or confirm a merger-specific benefit. It will exacerbate the merger harms the Order identifies, damage economic efficiency, injure small providers, and harm consumers. The condition should be stricken.””

12)      Why Microsoft’s Acquisition of LinkedIn Would Not be Another Nokia Story

Well, to be fair, Nokia was a dog’s breakfast before Microsoft bought them. Mind you the fact Microsoft paid billions for a dog’s breakfast company says a few things about the company’s competence when it comes to pricing acquisitions. That LinkedIn is not likely to be as bad of a disaster is cold comfort: it would take over 11 years to pay back the purchase price if LinkedIn can grow its non-GAAP (ie. imaginary) earnings by 25% per year from now on. Of course, few technologies last 11 years so the odds against that are pretty high. As for synergies, well, good luck with that.

“It has been less than a week and social media is abuzz with the news of LinkedIn’s acquisition by Microsoft. The deal that was finalized for a whopping 26.2 billion dollars is the largest software acquisition ever made. The move that is predicted by many as a catastrophic failure is in truth a well-planned move that would prove beneficial for Microsoft in the long run.”

13)      IBM finally reveals why it bought The Weather Company

IBM has brilliant engineers and scientists but the company’s senior management make up the difference. If you develop a technology which can, for example, slightly improve local weather forecasts, the best way of making money from that is not to buy your customer but to find other customers. You see, the people who owned the Weather Company decided they would rather IBM give them money than sell them technology and they know the weather business considerably better than IBM. After all, IBM has missed every significant technology trend over the past 30 years so why would you expect them to behave any differently?

“On Wednesday, IBM revealed its first joint product with The Weather Company: a hyperlocal weather forecast—at a 0.2-mile to 1.2-mile resolution—to provide enterprise clients with short-term customized forecasts. It’s hoping to include this service, dubbed Deep Thunder, as part of a growing suite of products offered to enterprise clients through its Watson arm.”

14)      Sony’s E3 press conference doubled down on PlayStation VR content

I remain skeptical about VR being as big as most predict. Much of the attention is on Facebook’s Oculus Rift device but others are coming on the market. The thing with Oculus Rift it is expensive and is that you need an upgraded PC to run it but game console vendors usually subsidize their hardware so that should give them a leg up in penetration. Sorry about the auto play video.

“You can pick up Sony’s electro-blue-lit PlayStation VR headset on October 13, the company revealed during its E3 presser, after prefacing the date drop with a trailer for the next Resident Evil. At $399, the new PlayStation 4-exclusive headset clocks in $200 cheaper than the next most expensive mainstream virtual reality headset (the Oculus Rift, at $599). Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden says you can expect 50 games in all for PlayStation VR between launch and year’s end, including a mix of existing and completely new experiences.”

15)      What is happening with Virtual Reality?

The lack of content for VR s one reason it hasn’t taken off yet. I find it hard to believe that VR movies will even be successful except briefly as a novelty. Like “3D” (i.e. stereoscopic) images, VR can only simulate a small part of the visual experience as important things like depth of field, etc., can’t be simulated without knowing what the viewer is looking at. The technology is bound to find some success in games, but even there the novelty might soon wear off.

“There is no denying it; virtual reality is the new upcoming area in technology. Do you remember that time when apple launched the iPod? Everyone stood back in awe to think that all your CD’s could fit into a tiny little box. Well Virtual reality is heading in that direction but VR has a problem at present. While there are plenty of products available for VR usage there has not been that wow moment yet. One of the difficulties at present is there is not enough content to use for VR devices. Google have gone down the VR route with their Google Cardboard. It is predominantly been promoted towards school children to explore parts of the world using VR. I tried this out recently and while it was cool to look out at the top of Matchu Pichu and I can see the benefit to schools, this has certain limitations and the novelty quickly wears off.”

16)      Wal-Mart Experimenting With Robotic Shopping Cart for Stores

One Wal-Mart near me makes you deposit $1 to get a shopping cart, which is a reason I avoid that particular store. Shopping carts are cheap and often get damaged so I can only imagine what would happen to a robotic shopping cart after a few days with the average Wal-Mart shopper. Robots aren’t exactly cheap either. Mind you, every Wal-Mart store has a small fleet of scooters for use by the handicapped (though most of the time the handicap is obesity).

“Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is working with a robotics company to develop a shopping cart that helps customers find items on their lists and saves them from pushing a heavy cart through a sprawling store and parking lot, according to a person familiar with the matter. Such carts are an emerging opportunity for robotics companies as brick-and-mortar stores look for innovative ways to match the convenience of Inc. and other online retailers, said Wendy Roberts, founder and chief executive officer of Five Elements Robotics.”

17)      Experimental Firefox feature lets you use multiple identities while surfing the web

This sounds like a potentially rather useful tool. The idea is to essentially present different sets of cookies, etc., depending on what you are doing. I suspect that it would be even more useful if you could assign the identity on the basis of the website so you could do your banking always with the banking identity presented.

“Mozilla’s Firefox browser is getting a new experimental feature today that aims to help you segregate your online identities and allow you to sign in into multiple mail or social media accounts side-by-side without having to use multiple browsers. This new “container tab” feature, which is now available in the unstable Nightly Firefox release channel, provides you with four default identities (personal, work, shopping and banking) with their own stores for cookies, IndexedDB data store, local storage and caches. In practice, this means you can surf Amazon without ads for products you may have looked at following you around the web when you switch over to your work persona.”

18)      Telegram bug allows attackers to crash devices, jack up phone bills

Who knew Iran has computer security experts? This is a pretty clunky bug so it’s surprising the software engineers at Telegram let it through. Basically bad software allows arbitrarily long files to be sent to your device – at your cost. Doesn’t anybody do bounds checks in software anymore?

“To prevent malicious users from abusing the app, Telegram limits text messages to a specific range of characters. Each message must consist of at least one character, and it may not exceed 4,096 characters. But according to Iranian security researchers Sadegh Ahmadzadegan and Omid Ghaffarinia, those limitations can easily be circumvented. The two researchers note in a blog post that a programming error allows a sender to successfully transmit a message with arbitrary length to a receiver … That large file can, in turn, cause the phone to crash or stop working due to a lack of memory. It can also eat up a user’s monthly data allotment if they are connected to their mobile network and not Wi-Fi. In a proof-of-concept video, Ahmadzadegan and Ghaffarinia spent 256 MB of a 300 MB plan in just a few minutes by sending over-sized messages.”

19)      3D printed braces: the future of scoliosis treatment

There is little chance 3D printing will become the consumer market many had forecast. Nevertheless the fact is there are plenty of high value added applications for the technology. I favor medical because there are all sorts of things in the medical business which should be customized for the patient but they are not. This is a potentially attractive application and I suspect the scanning part could be reduced from 30 minutes to a few seconds with the right equipment.

“In making the 3D printed corsets, the first step is a CAD-CAM capture, wherein low cost infrared sensors can effectively 3D scan and capture the patient’s torso. The technology is also capable of simultaneously correcting the patient’s curvature in a digital model. According to the doctor, the modelling time lasts only about 30 minutes. The benefits of 3D printing the brace are also notable: the technology is cost and materially efficient, even once printed the braces can be recycled and modified, they are lightweight and custom fitted, and have a distinct improved aesthetic quality. Leoncini has been working with the DeltaWASP 40 70 3D printer for his braces.”


20)      Walgreens ends relationship with Theranos, in-store centers closing immediately

Theranos is the “controversial” company which promised to do a whole bunch of blood tests from a small volume of blood. It was an early “unicorn” which raised a ton of money off investors who were unfazed that the CEO had dropped out of her second year of a chemical engineering degree and that you can’t really “hack” your way through biochemistry and medical engineering. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for bringing this development to my attention.

““In light of the voiding of a number of test results, and as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has rejected Theranos’ plan of correction and considers sanctions, we have carefully considered our relationship with Theranos and believe it is in our customers’ best interests to terminate our partnership,” said Brad Fluegel, Walgreens senior vice president and chief health care commercial market development officer. The move is a big blow for Theranos, whose finger-prick blood-testing system vaulted it and founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes into the national spotlight before crashing over the past eight months over questions about its technology.”