The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 25th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 25th 2016


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. 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


ps: there will be no Geek’s List for the next two weeks as I will be away hunting.


1)          This $1,500 Toaster Oven Is Everything That’s Wrong With Silicon Valley

This article is a good read for no other reason than it demonstrates how desperate – and frankly unhinged – technology investors have become. $1,500 is a lot of money for an appliance no matter what it does and whether it does it well or not. The Jobsian world view, where every task can be done better with expensive technology and a supporting infrastructure doesn’t take into account the nuances of functionality and utility, let alone the reality that most people lack the wherewithal to learn how to program such a thing.

“This salmon had become more distracting to babysit than if I’d just cooked it on my own. This salmon had become a metaphor for Silicon Valley itself. Automated yet distracting. Boastful yet mediocre. Confident yet wrong. Most of all, the June is a product built less for you, the user, and more for its own ever-impending perfection as a platform. When you cook salmon wrong, you learn about cooking it right. When the June cooks salmon wrong, its findings are uploaded, aggregated, and averaged into a June database that you hope will allow all June ovens to get it right the next time. Good thing the firmware updates are installed automatically.”

2)          CRISPR-Cas9 technique exploits pancreatic cancer cells’ vulnerabilities to develop new treatments

This is yet another example of the potential and rapid progress of CRISPR-Cas9 in medical research. Apparently this form of pancreatic cancer is particularly nasty and has a poor outcome (even if treated with fruit juice and a macrobiotic diet). No news of when a human trial might begin but the very fact they were able to identify a target and develop an antibody for it is impressive.

“Using this revolutionary tool, the team of researchers probed the function of every single gene expressed by pancreatic cancer cells to determine that one of the receptors (Frizzled-5) is essential for the growth of mutant pancreatic cancer cells. Normally, the signaling pathways activated by Frizzled-5 tell cells when to divide, what types of cells to become, and when they should die. When mutated or deregulated, however, they can initiate tumour growth. Having identified the key role that the Frizzled-5 receptor plays in promoting pancreatic cancer growth, the team rapidly developed an antibody drug to inhibit the growth of these cells. The study showed that the antibody proved highly effective in killing the cancer cells in patient-derived samples and shrank tumours in mice without damaging the surrounding healthy cells.”

3)          Intel Unveils Strategy for State-of-the-Art Artificial Intelligence

Common deep learning/AI algorithms use GPUs for the training phase, a fact which may explain why Nvidia’s stock has gone parabolic. There is no particular reason to believe GPUs are remotely optimal for the application. Most likely they just happened to be the best solution when the code was written. Microsoft has included FPGAs in its deep learning hardware, and those are supplied by Intel. Although Intel has a track record of letting emerging markets slip from its grasp I would not count them out: they have advanced algorithm analysis technology and there is no reason to doubt that a purpose built deep learning/AI platform would not handily outperform GPUs. Plus, Intel is in the position of “encouraging” adoption of its solutions by a variety of means.

“Intel also provided details of where the breakthrough technology from Nervana will be integrated into the product roadmap. Intel will test first silicon (code-named “Lake Crest”) in the first half of 2017 and will make it available to key customers later in the year. In addition, Intel announced a new product (code-named “Knights Crest”) on the roadmap that tightly integrates best-in-class Intel Xeon processors with the technology from Nervana. Lake Crest is optimized specifically for neural networks to deliver the highest performance for deep learning and offers unprecedented compute density with a high-bandwidth interconnect. “We expect the Intel Nervana platform to produce breakthrough performance and dramatic reductions in the time to train complex neural networks,” said Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel. “Before the end of the decade, Intel will deliver a 100-fold increase in performance that will turbocharge the pace of innovation in the emerging deep learning space.””

4)          Samsung is adding new obtrusive ads to your old smart TV

One of the main reasons given for subscribing to services like Netflix is to avoid the torrent of advertising. Samsung seems to have decided this is an opportunity to cram ads onto its smart TVs which seems to make a pretty good case to not buy a Samsung TV or, if you are stuck with one, to use a Roku or something for the “smart” features.

“If you’re Samsung and you want to wring additional cash out of your television business, what do you do? Add annoying advertisements to TVs that people already have in their homes, apparently. The Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung is readying the European expansion of an initiative it started in the United States last June: adding interactive advertisements to the menu bars of its high-end smart TVs. The impact isn’t going to be limited just to customers buying new Samsung televisions, either, as the company reportedly plans to use software updates to retroactively bring the ads to older models that people already have in their homes.”

5)          Britain’s sweeping surveillance powers act raises concerns for human rights activists

I am old enough to remember when mass surveillance and warrantless wire-tapping were considered the sort of thing “totalitarian” regimes such as East Germany did. Then again, I also recall that Orwell’s 1984 was intended to portray a dystopian future and not be used as a handbook for the national security apparatus.

“Government officials argue that the surveillance powers are necessary to keep Britain safe during a time of heightened security, terrorist attacks and cyberwarfare. Observers also say the act legalizes tactics law enforcement and security agencies have used for years without full disclosure to the public. But opponents say that the bill not only turned all those existing surveillance measures into law, but extended them even further. “It’s unprecedented in the UK, and any democracy,” said Pam Cowburn, communications director at the privacy campaign organization Open Rights Group. In essence, the bill will force Internet and phone companies to keep records of all users for up to a year, including every website visited and every phone call made, including duration, date and time. Such surveillance does not have to be targeted or based on any reasonable suspicion and this personal data can be accessed without a warrant in some instances. Authorities will need a warrant to access data about a journalist’s source, but opponents are still gravely concerned that the far-reaching nature of this bill will discourage whistle-blowing.”

6)          Tesla Powerwall 2 to be popular in Sweden with new $5,000 incentive to install home battery packs

I would not allow a large lithium ion battery within 3 meters of anything flammable and certainly not attached to my house (which is, in any event, made of concrete). That said, let’s do some math: $7,900 of capital cost for 500 charge cycles of 14 kWh (heck – let’s call it 2,000 charge cycles). That is 28,000 kWh of electricity storage for $7,900 or a capital cost of $0.28/kWh (more likely about $1.00 per kWh because, well the batteries don’t last 2,000 charge cycles). According to this,_second_half_2015_(%C2%B9)_(EUR_per_kWh)_YB16.png Swedes pay €0.16 per kWh, or about $0.17. So, you would have to be paid at least $0.11 per kWh (more like $0.87/kWh) for this to make any sense. All the subsidy does is spread the financial stupidity around.

“Starting this month, the government will cover 60% of the cost of a home battery pack up to 50,000 Swedish Krona (~$5,400). It’s clear that the incentive program was designed for the more expensive home battery pack options before the introduction of the Tesla Powerwall 2. In Sweden, Tesla sells the Powerwall 2 for 61,000 Swedish Krona (~$6,600 USD), but with installation and additional hardware (12,300 SEK), Tesla estimates it will add up to a total 0f 73,300 Swedish Krona ($7,900 USD), which adds up to taking advantage of almost the entire incentive and getting an installed energy capacity of 14 kWh for less than $3,000.”

7)          Apple admits to iPhone ‘touch disease,’ blames users and offers $149 fix

Having ignored a building chorus of complaints from users Apple, which once stood for quality and excellent customer service, has now admitted that the problem which previously did not exists is now the customer’s fault. The interesting thing is, this purported customer problem (i.e. you are dropping it wrong) only appears to occur on certain models of iPhones and not on others. Not only that, but some customers report having the problem with “new in the box” devices.

“Apple has finally admitted to the existence of the mysterious iPhone ailment that caused unresponsive screens and came to be called the “touch disease.” The Cupertino firm’s diagnosis? User error. Or, more specifically, user fumbling. “Apple has determined that some iPhone 6 Plus devices may exhibit display flickering or Multi-Touch issues after being dropped multiple times on a hard surface and then incurring further stress on the device,” Apple said in an online notice. Some users and observers, however, saw the problem as a defect. In August, a nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Jose, accusing Apple of fraud and violation of California consumer-protection law.”

8)          This security camera was infected by malware 98 seconds after it was plugged in

I continue to warn people about the vulnerability of Internet of Things devices to malware. Infecting a camera, baby monitor, or “smart” light bulb may not seem like a big deal but it places the device inside your firewall and in a position to infect other products as well as capture personal information, etc. Since most such devices are made by largely anonymous ODMs who don’t sell the product under their own name, and since consumers remain oblivious to the risk, don’t expect things to improve any time soon.

“Here’s an object lesson on the poor state of the so-called Internet of Things: Robert Stephens plugged a Wi-Fi-connected security camera into his network and it was compromised in… 98 seconds. Stephens, a tech industry veteran, wasn’t so naive as to do this without protecting himself. It was walled off from the rest of the network and rate-limited so it couldn’t participate in any DDoS attacks. He monitored its traffic carefully, expecting to see — as others have — attempts to take over the device. But even the most jaded among us probably wouldn’t have guessed it would take less than two minutes.”

9)          US regulators seek to reduce road deaths with smartphone ‘driving mode’

This is probably a pretty good idea but it seems to rely on the car to determine whether the mobile user is the driver or not. The problem with that is that it takes about a decade for a significant number of vehicles to come with a safety feature, in contrast with a bit more than two years for a new feature to become common in the smartphone business. People managed to live without texting or Facebook while driving so perhaps simply disabling those functions when moving on a road at more than a few miles per hour would be a good, albeit crude, solution.

“US regulators are seeking to reduce smartphone-related vehicle deaths with a new driving-safe mode that would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are to issue voluntary guidelines for smartphone makers, which will seek to restrict the apps and services accessible on a smartphone being used by a driver. US transport secretary Anthony Foxx told the New York Times: “Your smartphone becomes so many different things that it’s not just a communication device. Distraction is still a problem. Too many people are dying and being injured on our roadways.””

10)      Wedge-tailed eagles do battle with mining giant’s drones, knocking nine out of sky

I remain highly skeptical of drone delivery services, etc, but there are good uses for the technology. This mining company uses them for inspection and other applications. Unfortunately for the company it turns out that eagles are a little territorial. At $10K for the drone and $10K for the camera I would not be surprised if they develop anti-eagle countermeasures …

“Ten UAVs have been lost since South Africa’s Gold Fields, the world’s seventh-biggest gold producer, began operating the Trimble UX5 systems at its St Ives operations near Kambalda. One crashed as a result of human error, while nine have been taken down by wedge-tailed eagles, which are known to have wingspans more than twice that of the 1-metre-wide UAVs. The UAVs are constructed from foam and carbon fibre, and fly at an altitude of about 125 metres, reaching speeds of up to 92km/h. Razor-sharp talons have turned the wedge-tailed eagles into what St Ives Mine surveyor Rick Steven calls “the natural enemy of the UAV”.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 18th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 18th 2016


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. 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)          Apple, a Trendsetter No More

To be fair, there are only so many opportunities to come out with a revolutionary product. Few companies do it once and fewer still have two or three successive hits as did Apple. It is quite clear that a company whose slogan was “it just works” comes out with a flagship phone which can’t connect to its flagship laptop without an adapter (which is not included with either product) has lost its way. Of course, loyal Apple fans will continue to overpay for dated technology, there problem will be attracting new users to a dysfunctional ecosystem.

“The first major product debut under Cook, the Apple Watch, hasn’t yet become an obvious hit. (To be fair, no other companies have found major success with wearable computers.) More ominously for Apple, it’s no longer the technology trendsetter. Yes, Apple has brought us better smartphone cameras and fingerprint sensors, but there are more areas where it has whiffed. Cook has been saying for five years that the TV industry is broken and needs an overhaul. He was right. Now the way people watch television is being upended by Netflix Inc., by “cord cutting” and by video on smartphones. Apple is barely a participant in that transformation.”

2)          CRISPR gene-editing tested in a person for the first time

CRISPR is a gene editing technique which will probably be considered the greatest medical advance since antibiotics. By allowing selective deletion or modification of genes the function of those cells can be permanently corrected. In this case, the researchers hope to modify immune cells which have a gene which makes them susceptible to suppression by the cancer. By removing that gene the hope is that the immune system will attack the cancer. I see no mention of whether they are using stem cells for this but they probably are not so the modified immune system cells will die off. If the treatment works there is a good chance they will try modifying stem cells so the change is permanent.

“The researchers removed immune cells from the recipient’s blood and then disabled a gene in them using CRISPR–Cas9, which combines a DNA-cutting enzyme with a molecular guide that can be programmed to tell the enzyme precisely where to cut. The disabled gene codes for the protein PD-1, which normally puts the brakes on a cell’s immune response: cancers take advantage of that function to proliferate. Lu’s team then cultured the edited cells, increasing their number, and injected them back into the patient, who has metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. The hope is that, without PD-1, the edited cells will attack and defeat the cancer.”

3)          Google will soon ban fake news sites from using its ad network

The US election results have led to the traditional finger pointing in all directions as to who is responsible for voters having made the “wrong” decision. The media has decided that “fake” news is to blame and I have heard a lot of people plead for voters to subscribe to newspapers in order to fund “real” news. Unfortunately, “real” news led to the Iraq War because most of it was essentially propaganda, proving that the line between “real” and “fake” is rather blurry. Nevertheless Google, and more recently Facebook, have made some moves to reduce the attractiveness of the fake news business model. In a “post-fact” world, it is hard to see this will make much of a difference.

“Today, Google announced that its advertising tools will soon be closed to websites that promote fake news, a policy that could cut off revenue streams for publications that peddle hoaxes on platforms like Facebook. The decision comes at a critical time for the tech industry, whose key players have come under fire for not taking neccesary steps to prevent fake news from proliferating across the web during the 2016 US election. It’s thought that, given the viral aspects of fake news, social networks and search engines were gamed by partisan bad actors intending to influence the outcome of the race.”

4)          SpaceX seeks U.S. approval for internet-via-satellite network

I find it rather odd SpaceX has made this application because a year or two ago they announced they weren’t going to go ahead with the idea. Regardless, LEOSAT broadband is a daft idea no matter who proposes it: the constellations are hugely expensive and most of the satellites spend most of their time over unpopulated areas (i.e. the ocean, Arctic, Antarctic, deserts, forests, etc.). Most of the people live in cities and most city dwellers in developed countries (the people who can afford to pay for broadband) already have affordable broadband.

“The California-based company, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, has proposed an orbiting digital communications array that would eventually consist of 4,425 satellites, the documents filed on Tuesday show. The project, which Musk previously said would cost at least $10 billion, was first announced in January 2015. The latest documents, which include technical details of the proposed network, did not mention cost estimates or financing plans.  Financial backers of the company, whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp, include Alphabet’s Google Inc and Fidelity Investments, which together have contributed $1 billion to Musk’s space launch firm.”

5)          This new Samsung SSD is waaaaay faster than yours

This is more of an advertisement than anything else but there is some value to it: most SSDs are connected via the antediluvian SATA interface which has a legacy going back to the very first PC hard drives sold 30 years ago. M.2 is better in all respects and in the near future all PCs and laptops will have an M.2 interface, with SATA relegated to “backward compatibility” and available only on desktop PCs. Needless to say, it will be hard to sell a hard disk drive into a market where most PCs don’t have an interface for it.

“M.2 is a new interface that uses the PCI Express standard, one that was once reserved only for video cards, to connect to a computer’s main board. This interface allows for much higher bandwidth (currently up to 32 gigabits per second or 4,000 megabytes per second) compared to that of the existing SATA, which caps at just 6Gbps. That said, M.2 is a new upcoming interface standard that’s expected to replace SATA completely in the future. The fact Samsung doesn’t offer an SATA version of the 960 Evo is a clear indication of this trend. To use an M.2 drive, your computer needs to have an M.2 slot or, for existing desktops, you will need a PCIe adapter.”

6)          Theranos Whistleblower Shook the Company—and His Family

Every now and then the main stream media does a good job and exposing Theranos is a perfect example (their work on the fraud which led to the global credit crisis was less stellar as documented in the excellent film “The Big Short”). This article shows the challenges of being an whistle blower and the sorts of pressure a company can place on somebody with valid concerns about public safety.

(If you have trouble getting to this Wall Street Journal article, Google the title and click on the search link).

“After working at Theranos Inc. for eight months, Tyler Shultz decided he had seen enough. On April 11, 2014, he emailed company founder Elizabeth Holmes to complain that Theranos had doctored research and ignored failed quality-control checks. … Theranos accused him of leaking trade secrets and violating an agreement to not disclose confidential information. Mr. Shultz says lawyers from the law firm founded by David Boies, one of the country’s best-known litigators and who later became a Theranos director, surprised him during a visit to his grandfather’s house. They unsuccessfully pressured the younger Mr. Shultz to say he had talked to the reporter and to reveal who the Journal’s other sources might be. He says he also was followed by private investigators hired by Theranos.”

7)          IBM’s Watson: A Disaster In The Making

I don’t usually post investment research reports but this particular one pretty aligns exactly with my thinking. IBM management learned long ago that financial engineering trumps actual engineering, which is why they have missed every important new tech market over the past 30 years. Unfortunately, financial engineering only takes you so far far and IBM has entered a period of secular decline. Ask former employees of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) where that leads. I find it baffling people invest in shares of the company.

“IBM describes its efforts in its 10-K as « Investing to bring Watson’s capabilities to the enterprise and building a partner ecosystem, effectively creating a market for cognitive computing ». This translates into paying developers for using its technology. IBM is boasting that it has over 70,000 developers using Watson’s API. This is far fetched: we understand that 40,000 of these developers come from its acquisition of AlchemyAPI, a small startup which had only a few million dollars in yearly revenues before its acquisition, and little to do with Watson’s technology. Before Alchemy’s acquisition in March 2015, Watson had 7,000 developers using its API. And there’s absolutely no rationale for the 40,000 developers who used AlchemyAPI’s technology, to use Watson. … To make it look like Watson is generating revenue, IBM is buying up other companies, and consolidating their existing users and revenues into its Watson Group business segment. Recently, it has acquired the medical imagery company Merge Healthcare (for $1 billion, with revenues of $212 million), and the healthcare data services company Truven Health Analytics (for $2.6 billion, revenues of $500 million). Both companies have no profits to speak of.

8)          Osram’s Laser Chip for Lidar Promises Super-Short Pulses in a Smaller Package

Lidar is light based radar which provides coarse imaging information and detailed range information. In other words, when combined with image recognition it can tell you what something is and exactly how far away it is. Lidar is absolutely required for real Autonomous Vehicle (AV) functionality (as contrasted with glorified cruise control touted by Tesla). The problem is, Lidar was developed for military applications and most systems are therefore staggeringly expensive. Osram is about to change that. I figure all cars will have 4 Lidars, one at each corner of the vehicle, for redundancy.

“Those twirling banks of lasers you see atop experimental robocars cost plenty, wear fast, and suck power. The auto industry yearns to solve all those problems with a purely solid-state lidar set that designers can hide behind the grill of a car. Their wish will come true next year, according to Osram Opto Semiconductors. The company says test samples will be available in 2017, and that commercial models could arrive in 2018. With mass production, the price should drop to around 40 Euros (US $43.50), says Sebastian Bauer, the product manager for Osram, in Regensburg, Germany. By comparison, Velodyne’s rooftop lidar towers cost $70,000 and up, and that company’s new, hockey-puck-size model runs around $8000.”

9)          Google Translate uses machine learning for whole sentences

Deep learning (also unfortunately referred to as Artificial Intelligence) is hitting the mainstream. Companies like Google, Microsoft, and even IBM (which will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory) have some pretty advanced technology. Among the many potential applications for Deep Learning is translation, which is, in many ways, related to speech recognition. In any event, Google is charging ahead and moving many of its services over to this type of approach and that lead to improved performance.

“It’s no secret that Google is obsessed with machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially of late. If it were up to it, those technologies would permeate all its products. It already started with Google Assistant in the Google Pixel smartphone and Google Home speaker. Now it’s bringing a dash of that to Google Translate. The company has announced that it is transitioning from using statistical machine translation to a Neural Machine method to deliver more natural sounding translations that won’t embarrass you or crack you up.”

10)      The All-American iPhone

Part of “making America great again” is supposed to be repatriating manufacturing jobs. Of course, most such jobs have been lost to automation (and this is more true in electronics than any other sector) but Apple stands out because it is so profitable. The idea that you can “only” increase the labor cost by 10 to 3X and keep the price more or less the same is absurd, but I take issue that labor costs are the only impact. The reality is that manufacturing requires a complete support structure and, if that isn’t already there somebody has to build it. Of course, this is all bloviating regardless: if the best you can do for an economy is slap the cover on a robot-assembled gadget you aren’t doing much.

“According to IHS, a market analyst, the components of an iPhone 6s Plus, which sells for $749, cost about $230. … Assembling those components into an iPhone costs about $4 in IHS’s estimate and about $10 in the estimation of Jason Dedrick, a professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Dedrick thinks that doing such work in the U.S. would add $30 to $40 to the cost. That’s partly because labor costs are higher in the U.S., but mostly it’s because additional transportation and logistics expenses would arise from shipping parts, and not just the finished product, to the U.S. This means that assuming all other costs stayed the same, the final price of an iPhone 6s Plus might rise by about 5 percent.”




The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 11th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 11th 2016


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. 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)          Paralyzed monkeys walk again

If you watch the video I think that “walk again” might be a bit of an overstatement. It does appear the monkey has some control but it looks a lot like the leg is essentially in spasm which allows it to use it as a sort of walking stick. Clearly real function of the type needed by a biped is a long way away. Nevertheless this looks like a promising development.

“Two monkeys who had suffered a spinal-cord injury have had movement restored in their paralyzed leg and regained the ability to walk. The study published in Nature, used an implantable device, termed brain-spine interface, to decode signals from the brain and restore movements of the paralyzed leg. Furthermore, many of the components used in the device have already been approved for research in humans and the leader of the study, Prof. Gregoire Courtine, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, expects “to test brain-spine interface in a clinical trial within the next ten years.” Medtronic, Brown University, Fraunhofer ICT-IMM, University of Bordeaux, Motac Neuroscience and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) also contributed.”

2)          Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook

Now the blame begins, and there is plenty to go around. Even though I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, I think there is little doubt that social media is to blame for “dumbing down” the population but that works for both sides: the amount of nonsense about alternative energy, GMOs, etc., transmitted by social media is just as extensive. What used to be the “mainstream media” is hardly beyond reproach – recall the vigorous support for the Iraq War propaganda effort from The New York Times, for example. And that was long before “social media” was a thing.

“The most obvious way in which Facebook enabled a Trump victory has been its inability (or refusal) to address the problem of hoax or fake news. Fake news is not a problem unique to Facebook, but Facebook’s enormous audience, and the mechanisms of distribution on which the site relies — i.e., the emotionally charged activity of sharing, and the show-me-more-like-this feedback loop of the news feed algorithm — makes it the only site to support a genuinely lucrative market in which shady publishers arbitrage traffic by enticing people off of Facebook and onto ad-festooned websites, using stories that are alternately made up, incorrect, exaggerated beyond all relationship to truth, or all three. (To really hammer home the cyberdystopia aspect of this: A significant number of the sites are run by Macedonian teenagers looking to make some scratch.)”

3)          Spotify is writing massive amounts of junk data to storage drives

Given the increasing popularity of SSDs I thought this was interesting. SSDs or any flash storage media has a lifespan based on how many times you write new data to it. For most applications on modern SSDs that lifespan is likely much longer than the device in which it is used but if you “thrash” your SSD that can change pretty quickly. It turns out that the Spotify app appears to be doing just that so if you use it and have an SSD you might want to think about disabling the app until the bug is fixed. I don’t know if this applies to smartphones but that would be even worse.

“For almost five months—possibly longer—the Spotify music streaming app has been assaulting users’ storage devices with enough data to potentially take years off their expected lifespans. Reports of tens or in some cases hundreds of gigabytes being written in an hour aren’t uncommon, and occasionally the recorded amounts are measured in terabytes. The overload happens even when Spotify is idle and isn’t storing any songs locally.”

4)          Sinclair VP: ATSC 3.0 will allow us to ditch Nielsen, save millions

ATSC 3.0 is a new broadcast TV standard which incorporates ties to Internet protocols. As this article suggests this should allow broadcasters to directly gather rich information on viewing habits and bypass the traditional “TV ratings” providers. I suspect this will only work when enough TVs and set top boxes are out there with ATSC 3.0 and, of course, won’t work for cable stations.

“Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group, sees a big financial upside to ATSC 3.0’s potential for collecting and analyzing viewership data. “If we weren’t stuck with Nielsen and their reading of the tea leaves, we’d have tens of millions of extra dollars in our pocket,” Aitken told FierceBroadcasting, adding that the situation between broadcasters and Nielsen has been lopsided for a long time. He called Nielsen’s process “imprecise” and said it’s often easy to prove how “eschew” the numbers are. In addition to Nielsen, Sinclair also uses Rentrak, which he said in many ways offers a richer set of data. But Sinclair is still in the process of building up its own data analytics group and working with partners like Sorenson Media. “When you have a sampling of tens of millions of smart TVs, you start getting a different view of the world,” Aitken said.”

5)          CBC threatens podcast app makers, argues that RSS readers violate copyright

I don’t know whether this is true or not but it does sound like the sort of think a corporation which listens to lawyers would do. The threat itself is laughable and, at best, would be counter-productive. No podcast app maker would agree to such a license and they would simply exclude CBC podcasts from their offering. This would effectively restrict the distribution of CBC content to a tiny number of people who would get it directly from their website. Like I said: too many lawyers.

“The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation publishes several excellent podcasts, notably the As It Happens feed; like every podcast in the world, these podcasts are available via any podcast app in the same way that all web pages can be fetched with all web browsers — this being the entire point of podcasts. In a move of breathtaking, lawless ignorance, the CBC has begun to send legal threats to podcast app-makers, arguing that making an app that pulls down public RSS feeds is a “commercial use” and a violation of the public broadcaster’s copyrights. This is a revival of an old, dark era in the web’s history, when linking policies prevailed, through which publishes argued that they had the right to control who could make a link to their sites — that is, who could state the public, true fact that “a page exists at this address.””

6)          DDoS attack halts heating in Finland amidst winter

Another week, another example of the problems with the Internet of Things (IoT) and security. Actually I could probably do 10 items a week on this subject alone. What makes this a little different is the fact these were industrial systems and you’d think the vendor would have a better handle on how things should be made so this doesn’t happen. I suspect loss of heat would be a big problem in Finland. Anyhow they eventually found a workaround.

“In the city of Lappeenranta, there were at least two buildings whose systems were knocked down by the network attack. In a DDoS attack the network is overloaded by traffic from multiple locations with the aim of causing the system to fail. In an interview with Etelä-Saimaa, Rounela estimated the attack in Eastern Finland lasted from late October to Thursday the 3rd of November. The systems that were attacked tried to respond to the attack by rebooting the main control circuit. This was repeated over and over so that heating was never working. At this time of the year temperatures in Finland are below freezing and a long-term disruption in heat will cause both material damage as well as the need to relocate residents elsewhere. Thankfully in this case the fix was easy to do by limiting network traffic.”

7)          Millimeter Waves Travel More Than 10 Kilometers in Rural Virginia 5G Experiment

New radio technology offers the potential to exploit radio spectrum into the millimeter (30GHz) and above. This experiment provided unexpected results because the range would have been expected to be much lower due to trees and hills. As a critic points out, these frequencies are highly attenuated by rain, but then again the power output was very low and we don’t know whether MIMO or beam forming were used and that can make a big difference. I suspect that millimeter radio will put an end to the myth of spectrum shortage once and for all.

“To their delight, the group found that the waves could travel more than 10 kilometers in this rural setting, even when a hill or knot of trees was blocking their most direct route to the receiver. The team detected millimeter waves at distances up to 10.8 kilometers at 14 spots that were within line of sight of the transmitter, and recorded them up to 10.6 kilometers away at 17 places where their receiver was shielded behind a hill or leafy grove. They achieved all this while broadcasting at 73 Gigahertz (GHz) with minimal power—less than 1 watt. “I was surprised we exceeded 10 kilometers with a few tens of milliwatts,” Rappaport says. “I expected we’d be able to go a few kilometers in non-line-of-sight but we were able to go beyond ten.”

8)          GoPro recalls Karma drone

GoPro has made some OK products but none of those are remarkable enough to merit a multi-billion dollar market capitalization. Unsurprisingly everything they do can be done by many other companies and offered of r a lot less money. Recently they appear to have devolved into the gang who could shoot straight as this safety recall exemplifies. The thing is, drones are dangerous as hell even when they don’t unexpectedly drop from the sky. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“As if GoPro didn’t enough problems. The company, which has seen its stock slide and sales tumble, is recalling the 2,500 units sold of the new Karma drone, which was introduced just a few weeks ago to positive reviews. This is the product GoPro had put much of its hopes for in the fourth quarter on advancing sales again. GoPro said a “very small number” of units had lost power during operation, so it was recalling all of them to fix the issue. Most GoPro sales are from the company website, but Karma was also in stock at Best Buy, the physical and online retailer.”

9)          3D printing will correct your smile from the comfort of your own home

This sounds like a viable application of 3D printing technology although I suspect that it can only work for a subset of people who need orthodontics. There are certain medical domains (eyewear and hearing instruments for example) which steadfastly retain high prices despite a dramatic reduction in costs. Orthodontics might be an exception but chances are it will end up in the same netherworld: immune from the onslaught of technology.

“The company lets users take moldings of their own teeth using a home impression kit, which they then mail back along with some digitally uploaded photos. (In some cities, 3D scans can alternatively be taken at associated SmileShops.) Customers then get an expert review from a licensed dental professional, have their custom aligner created and mailed back and — presto! — straighter teeth. Fenkell described the solution as “about 70 percent less expensive” than other invisible aligners in the space, with a price point of $1,500 — or $250 down and then $99 a month.”

10)      TiVo’s “TV Guide” patents are DOA at appeals court

Software patents have always been an abomination (though admittedly not as much of an abomination as business method patents). For many years the state of Intellectual Property (IP) law was such that suing for infringement of software patents was a great business but the pendulum has swung the other way over the past few years. In general IP law goes through long cycles and, if I were a betting man, I suspect things are going to continue swinging away from strict enforcement for a decade or more. It was fun while it lasted: at least for patent licensing companies and their attorneys.

“A five-year-old patent brawl between Netflix and Rovi (now TiVo) has reached a turning point, with the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upholding a major lower-court victory by Netflix. The litigation between the two companies began in 2011, when Netflix sued to invalidate a batch of patents on Rovi’s digital entertainment guides, for which Rovi had demanded Netflix pay licensing fees. … Now it’s clear that Rovi’s strategy to patent digital TV guides has hit a wall. Just a few days after Rovi’s lawyers made their oral argument, a panel of judges at the Federal Circuit upheld (PDF) the lower court’s decision in its entirety without comment.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 4th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 4th 2016


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. 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)          Uber plan for flying taxis targets 2025-2030 and could spend $400 million- $1 billion to make it happen

Some modern entrepreneurs sell their product (i.e. the company stock) by spinning out an endless array of world-changing ideas and not by actually turning a profit. The idea of flying taxis is daft since any VTOL craft has to waste a lot of its energy keeping aloft with little benefit from forward motion. The unfortunate fact that the best batteries have 1/40th the specific energy of diesel fuel makes an electric VTOL even less practical and that doesn’t even take into account the recharge time and short battery life. It’s almost a pity the likes of Uber don’t work on old fashion things like running their business.

“On-demand aviation, has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes. Uber is close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel. We view helping to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base. Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground. A network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically (called VTOL aircraft for Vertical Take-off and Landing, and pronounced vee-tol), will enable rapid, reliable transportation between suburbs and cities and, ultimately, within cities.”

2)          How AI Is Shaking Up the Chip Market

The article is pretty lean on the details but basically what they are saying is that deep learning algorithms require different computing function than traditional algorithms. This has led to solutions involving GPUs, FPGAs and custom processors. It is easy to over-state growth in demand for AI related hardware but it will largely be installed in cloud data centers because of the need for massive amounts of data and as a result much of it can be reused. It seems likely to me that GPUs are used because they were better than traditional processors for AI training, not because they are optimal. Most likely they will be displaced in short order with FPGAs or other purpose-built devices.

“Neural networks can learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data, including everything from identifying faces and objects in photos to translating between languages, and they require more than just CPU power. And so Google built the Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU. Microsoft is using a processor called a field programmable gate array, or FPGA. Myriad companies employ machines equipped with vast numbers of graphics processing units, or GPUs. And they’re all looking at a new breed of chip that could accelerate AI from inside smartphones and other devices.”

3)          American jobs are going to robots, not China.

The great thing about blaming China for manufacturing job losses is that it makes it sound like you can do something about it. The fact is that automation is part of a long continuum of replacing labor with capital which has been going on since the start of the industrial revolution. It is not necessarily accelerating and it is not going to stop any time soon. Short of a successful Luddite movement there is nothing which can be done about it either.

“But research shows that the automation of U.S. factories is a much bigger factor than foreign trade in the loss of factory jobs. A study at Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research last year found that trade accounted for just 13 percent of America’s lost factory jobs. The vast majority of the lost jobs — 88 percent — were taken by robots and other homegrown factors that reduce factories’ need for human labor. “We’re making more with fewer people,” says Howard Shatz, a senior economist at the Rand Corp. think tank.”

4)          Microsoft Speeds Open Hardware

The push towards Open Hardware for data centers is a big problem for companies such as HP, Cisco, and others. Data centers are not only a big market but it is just a matter of a few years before these products appear in corporate networking rooms and carrier infrastructure. Cisco’s margins are about 60% and Hon Hai/Foxconn’s are about 7%. That’s a lot of margin for grabs.

“The current process of contributing data center hardware designs to the Open Compute Project (OCP) when they are production-ready is too slow, Microsoft argued in a blog posted Monday. It “delays the development of derivative designs, limits interactive community engagement and adoption, and slows down overall delivery,” wrote Kushagra Vaid, general manager of hardware for Microsoft’s Azure service. … The Project Olympus design specifies a new motherboard, server and rack. It defines a 945 x 441-mm server with room for two CPUs, 32 DDR4 DIMMs, 50G networking, eight M.2 NVMe SSD slots, three PCI Express x16 cards and a 12V power supply. … Facebook started the OCP effort. China’s largest data centers have a similar effort called Scorpio.”

5)          The Inner Life of a Cell

I came across this video and thought I would share it. Having spent hours trying to recognize organelles (the equivalent of organs within cells) being able to visualize them in this animation is much better. It also shows the astounding complexity that results from a few billion years of evolution – especially since this is all very simplified.

6)          Tesla unveils residential ‘solar roof’ with updated battery storage system

Another week, another crazy world-changing announcement out of Elon Musk. This time it is solar shingles – a technology which has been tried by a few dozen companies, including several with actual expertise in the roofing business. Of course there is a looming shareholder vote whereby Tesla shareholders will vote on whether it will acquire Musk controlled Solar City. Without a favorable outcome to that vote Solar City will probably have a financial crisis which could extend to his other holdings and with a favorable outcome the cash burn at the combined companies will reach staggering proportions but at least they’ll be afloat a bit longer. Not that that has anything to do with this. My friend Duncan Stewart addressed some of the issues with solar shingle here: of course, all such discussion presupposes the product exists and will find its way to the market.

“Tesla will build and sell its own line of solar panels to combine with its battery storage system, the company announced at a press event at Universal Studios in LA, today. The system will allow residential homeowners to replace their entire roof with solar panels connected to an updated Powerwall 2 battery pack, making it much simpler for homes to be entirely powered by solar power. The roof is made of a textured glass tile with integrated solar cells. The roofs look “as good or better” than conventional roofs, according to Musk. They look like normal roofing tiles from the ground, but are completely transparent to the sun. The tiles are hydrographically printed, which, Musk says, makes each one a “special snowflake tile,” and no two roofs will be the same. “You can take any two roofs that look like that and they will be different — because they are different,” said Musk.”

7)          ‘Any idiot can do it.’ Genome editor CRISPR could put mutant mice in everyone’s reach

This is yet another update on CRISPR, which I think is probably the greatest medical advance since they figured out how to sequence DNA cost effectively. CRISPR allows directed editing of genes which, as the article shows, should greatly increase the pace of genetic engineering. This article mainly focuses on “knock out” of genes which is an important way of figuring out what a particular gene does but its actual application will be much broader than that.

“Most investigators get their engineered mice from colleagues or by purchasing them from commercial outfits like JAX or academic-based repositories. Popular engineered mice, such as JAX’s immunodeficient NOD scid gamma strains, sell for as little as a few hundred dollars, but a custommade mutant could cost as much as $20,000. By making the engineering of mice far simpler and cheaper, CRISPR opens the way for more labs to do it themselves. “When you made knockout mice before, you needed some skills,” says Rudolf Jaenisch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “Now, you don’t need them anymore. Any idiot can do it.””

8)          New Bionic Eye That Connects to The Brain Successfully Restores a Woman’s Sight

Saying this “restores sight” seems like an overstatement since the patient was simply able to see some points of light but what makes this interesting is that the device bypasses the optic nerve, unlike its prior device which stimulated retinal cells. That means that as the technology improves it may be possible to restore vision to people whose eyes or optic nerves have been destroyed.

“Researchers have been innovating methods of restoring sight to the blind through a number of different ways. Now, a company is closer to bringing another device to the public with vision impairment. Second Sight, a developer and manufacturer of implantable visual prosthetics has successfully implanted the Orion I, in their first patient. The Orion is a wireless visual cortical stimulator designed to restore sight to the blind. In a UCLA trial supported by Second Sight, a wireless multichannel neurostimulation system was implanted to a 30 year old patient’s visual cortex. The tests showed that the patient was able to perceive spots of light without any significant side effects.”

9)          ESPN Loses 621,000 Subscribers; Worst Month In Company History

Despite the title this is not so much about ESPN as it is a story about the transformation of the delivery of video from Broadcast (primarily cable) to streaming (i.e. Netflix and “over the top” delivery). The impact on ESPN is highlighted due to the fact they entered into expensive long-term contracts for sports events whereas other cable providers can cancel shows. Some content providers such as HBO are offering a streaming option whereas AT&T (a cable provider) is offering a streaming cable alternative. Ultimately cable companies will simply become broadband providers but that sector will get a lot more competitive with 5G wireless. There is going to be a lot of disruption and opportunity due to these shifts.

“These 621,000 lost subscribers in the past month alone lead to a drop in revenue of over $52 million and continue the alarming subscriber decline at ESPN. Couple these subscriber declines with a 24% drop in Monday Night Football ratings this fall, the crown jewel of ESPN programming, and it’s fair to call October of 2016 the worst month in ESPN’s history. But this isn’t just a story about ESPN, the rapid decline in cable subscribers is hitting every channel, sports and otherwise. It just impacts ESPN the most because ESPN costs every cable and satellite subscriber roughly $7 a month, over triple the next most expensive cable channel.”

10)      Computer Virus Cripples UK Hospital System

You start putting people’s lives at risk and all of a sudden computer security becomes serious. It is rather a pity that so little information is available regarding these sort of hacks: after all the hackers know exactly what they did so why don’t the victims publicise their system characteristics (Operating Systems, etc.) provide a post-mortem, etc.. All that keeping things quiet does is to allow similar systems to be exploited in the future. That might be good for job security but not so good for computer security.

“Citing a computer virus outbreak, a hospital system in the United Kingdom has canceled all planned operations and diverted major trauma cases to neighboring facilities. The incident came as U.K. leaders detailed a national cyber security strategy that promises billions in cybersecurity spending, new special police units to pursue organized online gangs, and the possibility of retaliation for major attacks. In a “major incident” alert posted to its Web site, the National Health Service’s Lincolnshire and Goole trust said it made the decision to cancel surgeries and divert trauma patients after a virus infected its electronic systems on Sunday, October 30.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 28th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 28th 2016


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. 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)          Cyber attack: Hackers use everday devices to cause major internet outages

I have warned repeatedly that Internet of Things devices are not typically secure and Friday’s massive cyber-attack sort of makes that point. Unfortunately, there is no reason to suspect the industry will reform itself since IoT vendors are generally low-end firms with little experience in, or interest in, security. What is interesting to me is that the attack may have been inspired by or instigated by the folks at Wikileaks. Why anybody would think that vandalizing the Internet is likely to lead to a positive outcome for them is a mystery. Look at the bright side: they elected to vandalize DNS servers rather than steal banking information.

“A major cyber offensive that brought down internet behemoths Twitter and Paypal is thought to have been launched by hackers using common devices such as webcams, baby monitors and digital recorders. In a huge breach of global internet stability, hackers brought down well-known sites including Netflix, Twitter, Paypal and Spotify. The widespread disruption was the result of a coordinated assault on some of the underlying infrastructure that powers the Internet. Dyn, one of several companies responsible for hosting the crucial web directory known as the Domain Name System (DNS), suffered a sustained so-called “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attack, leading many people intermittently to lose access to specific sites or to the Internet entirely.”

2)          Tesla, once beloved by critics, ranks near bottom of new Consumer Reports survey

Consumer Report’s bizarre decision to grant the Tesla Model S, a new model from an vendor with limited experience building cars, its highest rating ever was greeted with tremendous excitement by Tesla fans and at the same time my opinion of CR’s judgement dropped to zero. They subsequently withdrew that rating and this report shows they are more or less on an even keel – though the extremely important issue of battery life and high replacement cost doesn’t seem to bother them yet. Give them a few years. Unsurprisingly Tesla fans are now attacking CE as “biased”.

“Tesla, the upstart all-electric automaker that once landed Consumer Reports’ best-ever performance rating, has now achieved a far less impressive feat, with a ranking from the reviewer that labels it one the least reliable car companies in America. The Consumer Reports’ ranking, released Monday, places Tesla at no. 25 of 29 for reliability, with reviewers saying the automaker’s new Model X SUV “has been plagued with malfunctions,” including with the “falcon-wing doors” that have become its signature.”

3)          Silicon Valley Decides It’s Just Too Hard to Build a Car

I continue to maintain that the tricky part of building a self-driving car is actually building the car. You can retrofit technology to a car design but actually making a car is a heck of a lot harder than people realize, especially in the Silicon Valley Bubble. Most recently it appears even Google may want out of the business Thanks to my colleague Paul Kantorovich for this item.

“He’s not kidding. Tech giants Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, once intent on disrupting, if not destroying, Detroit, have concluded for now that they don’t want to build cars. Sure, they still bank on supplying the autonomous software that will drive robot rides, but the concession that they’re not up to the complex task of mass production tilts the balance of power to traditional automakers. Vehicle manufacturing is a massive undertaking. There is the metal bending and assembly, a highly evolved process in itself. Car companies also integrate millions of lines of code that control everything from the radio to the radar sensors that will soon allow hands-free driving. Detroit also has deep experience managing the long chain of suppliers that provide roughly 30,000 parts.”

4)          Why Tim Cook is Steve Ballmer and Why He Still Has His Job at Apple

This is a surprisingly good article which discusses the problem of the “visionary CEO” and what happens when he leaves. As the article explains, visionaries pick good operators as senior executives and one of those becomes a successor. Unfortunately good operators make lousy visionaries so they plant the seeds for their own destruction.

“When visionary founders depart (death, firing, etc.), the operating executives who reported to them believe it’s their turn to run the company (often with the blessing of the ex CEO).  At Microsoft, Bill Gates anointed Steve Ballmer, and at Apple Steve Jobs made it clear that Tim Cook was to be his successor. Once in charge, one of the first things these operations/execution CEOs do is to get rid of the chaos and turbulence in the organization. Execution CEOs value stability, process and repeatable execution. On one hand that’s great for predictability, but it often starts a creative death spiral – creative people start to leave, and other executors (without the innovation talent of the old leader) are put into more senior roles – hiring more process people, which in turn forces out the remaining creative talent. This culture shift ripples down from the top and what once felt like a company on a mission to change the world now feels like another job.”

5)          SSDs Kill The 15K HDD, Seagate Rolls Out Last Generation

I continue to be very negative on the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) industry even as share prices of Seagate and Western Digital continue to go up. Inflection points are generally ignored by analysts and investors until it is too late: after all, almost all analysis is derived from management and management is great at deluding themselves. There will be shuffling of deck chairs along the way but this is only going to end one way. How many people would invest in a digital storage tape vendor today?

“Seagate representatives indicated that the company is not working on future generations of 15K HDDs due to the proliferation of SSDs in the data center. The company will offer the Enterprise Performance 15K HDD v6 (otherwise known as the 15K.6) for an extended period of time to ensure that forward compatibility and replacements are on hand, as it does all of its data center HDDs, but it will offer SSDs as the go-to solution for high-performance workloads. The move isn’t entirely surprising; it’s fair to say that the 2.5″ HDD segment has been on a managed decline (albeit a steep one) recently. The “mission-critical” 2.5″ segment declined from roughly five million units in 4Q2014 to 3.2 million in 1Q2016”,32920.html

6)          The Google Assistant Needs You

One of the new features in Google’s Pixel phone which is getting a lot of positive attention is the Google Assistant. I haven’t tried it but apparently it is a considerable leap ahead of Google voice. This article implies that the design of Google Assistant is such that it will improve steadily as more data is gathered from use thanks to deep learning technology. Some articles have suggested this may place Apple at a competitive disadvantage as it’s AI/Deep Learning technology is behind that of Google and even Microsoft.

“As Pereira explains it, The Transition is a Brink’s Job-level bounty of data that his team and other scientists at Google will receive when millions of people start conversing with his company’s flagship bot, the Google Assistant. The Assistant is a single software system that will be implemented across multiple Google platforms, including the Pixel phone and the Google Home device. It strives to control the functions on the phone like Siri does, perform services as seamlessly as Amazon’s Alexa, and conduct Geisha-level chatter that puts to shame the business bot in Facebook’s Messenger.”

7)          All the disappointments from Apple’s MacBook Pro event

I am sort of used to fawning coverage of any Apple product release “event”. Apple has bloggers and the tech media very carefully controlled by limiting access to its events and test units only to those who “think right”. The reaction to this week’s MacBook Pro event has been remarkably negative. Not just the reviews but comment threads regarding the new products have been extremely critical of the reduction in features and increased prices (one developer noted one model MacBook Pro actually cost more than a similar featured product from a few years ago). I don’t see the point of paying 2 or 3x more for a computer because is in an Apple but that is not the point: Apple has been an astoundingly competent marketing company even if its innovation has lagged. If they lose that, they have lost everything. See also

“One of the main draws to Apple products is the unified ecosystem, but it looks like the company is getting sloppy in maintaining that. The USB-C-equipped MacBook Pros can’t connect to your new iPhone 7 unless you buy a $20 adaptor or a new cable. Similarly, you can’t connect your Lightning earbuds to your new laptop. There isn’t really a good reason for this. Apple seems hell-bent on sticking with Lightning connectors for some devices, even though it’s pushing forward with USB-C ports. The only saving grace in this regard, as our own Napier Lopez noted, is that the MacBook Pro comes with a good ol’ 3.5mm headphone jack. Thanks, Apple.”

8)          No One Is Buying Smartwatches Anymore

No, this is not another Apple article. I included it as an example of why industry research is so utterly useless (Google “IDC predicts smartwatch sales” for a list of articles such as this or this The job of industry analysts is to paint a bright picture of the future because that is what sells expensive reports. It is truly a pity so many investors and businesses actually believe they know what they are talking about.

“Remember how smartwatches were supposed to be the next big thing? About that… The market intelligence firm IDC reported on Monday that smartwatch shipments are down 51.6 percent year-over-year for the third quarter of 2016. This is bad news for all smartwatch vendors (except maybe Garmin), but it’s especially bad for Apple, which saw shipments drop 71.6 percent, according to the IDC report”

9)          Demand for Google Pixel Smartphones Soars, Shortages Result

I doubt I’ll buy one (too much money to spend on a smartphone) but Google’s flagship Pixel phone sure is getting very positive reviews. It may be this is just a “manufactured shortage” use to build hype or it could be that Samsung owners who traded in their defective phones decided to go with Google. It might even be that Google has a successful product on its hands.

“Since going on sale Oct. 20, Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL Android smartphones are so popular that several versions are completely out of stock and others are apparently taking longer to get to buyers than previously estimated by Google. All 5.5-inch Pixel XL handsets in Quite Black or Very Silver are out of stock in both 32GB and 128GB configurations, while the 5-inch Pixel models in certain configurations—32GB in Very Silver and 128GB models in Very Silver and Quite Black—are shipping in two to three weeks, according to the Google Store’s ordering page. Other standard Pixel models are completely out of stock, including the Pixel 32GB Quite Black version and the 32GB Really Blue Limited Edition version.”

10)      Qualcomm’s NXP Deal Is $47 Billion Wager on Computers You Drive

Qualcomm’s long rumored purchase of NXP is just the most recent act in a multi-year consolidation of the semiconductor industry. NXP is not exactly a gem of a company, having spent like drunken sailors to create the illusion of growth the last few years. NXP bought Freescale in 2015, a company whose management we consider to be essentially pathogens. Meanwhile Qualcomm is faced with a declining smartphone market and the loss of its prior dominance there so some financial engineering is in order. Acquisition accounting should allow obfuscation of real operating performance for a couple years at least but it doesn’t change the fact the semiconductor industry is no longer growing. This may be one of the largest such transactions but it will not be the last: substantially all smaller semiconductor companies will be acquired in this feeding frenzy.

“Qualcomm Inc.’s purchase of NXP Semiconductors NV is a bet that the future of mobile computing has four wheels. The $47 billion acquisition unveiled Thursday — the biggest ever for Qualcomm, and in the chip industry’s history — marks the company’s most significant foray outside its historically narrow focus on cell-phone chips and patents, a strategy that has made it one of the most successful technology companies of the last 20 years. Now, as mobile-phone growth decelerates, Qualcomm’s management is buying a leading position in the nascent market for chips that will turn automobiles into smart devices that use sensors to help drivers drive, park, navigate and communicate.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 21st 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 21st 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 Ridiculously Easy Way to Convert CT Scans to 3D Printable Bone STL Models for Free in Minutes

I’ve written about medical applications for 3D printing a number of times. Like any emerging technology it can sound pretty daunting so I thought this item was worth a read. Basically the author takes you through how you can convert a CAT scan into a 3D printed model using open source tools. It is that easy.

“In this tutorial you will learn how to quickly and easily make 3D printable bone models from medical CT scans using the free online service Imag3D. The method described here requires no prior knowledge of medical imaging or 3D printing software. Creation of your first model can be completed in as little as 10 minutes. You can download the files used in this tutorial by clicking on this link. You must have a free Embodi3D member account to do so. If you don’t have an account, registration is free and takes a minute. It is worth the time to register so you can follow along with the tutorial and use the Imag3D service.”

2)          Cities spent millions on fast gigabit networks. No one is sure what they’re good for.

I am always impressed by the utter cluelessness of policy advisors when the subject of the need for broadband infrastructure comes up. The analogy with electricity is stark: the main application for electricity was electric light and people only needed so much light so why “waste” money delivering more than a few amps to a building? If you are going to dig up streets and back yards you want to do that once and make sure you have plenty of headroom for growth. Although there are upper limits to how much bandwidth people might use, for the foreseeable future we will grow into whatever infrastructure is available.

“Of course, there’s another possibility: Maybe people just don’t have any use for so much bandwidth. That’s the view of Doug Brake, of Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank funded by foundation and government grants as well as donations from firms such as Google and IBM. “There are no apps today and no apps on the horizon,” he said, though he acknowledged that development of new applications would probably proceed more quickly with far broader gigabit coverage. The basic issue is that even the most bandwidth-hungry of today’s applications use far, far less than a gigabit — 1,000 megabits per second — of bandwidth. Right now, one of the most bandwidth-hungry applications out there is Netflix. Netflix recommends users have at least 3 Mbps of bandwidth for standard-definition video — meaning that you could stream about 300 Netflix videos simultaneously on a 1 gigabit connection. If you want Netflix’s highest-quality streaming, called Ultra HD, that requires 25 Mbps. So a gigabit connection would allow you to stream 40 Ultra HD videos at a time.”

3)          Uber’s Ad-Toting Drones Are Heckling Drivers Stuck in Traffic

I figure the marketing guy who thought this up should be subject to summary execution. Seriously, what moron thinks that flying advertisements just over the heads of drivers is a good idea? How on earth would it be different if you were stuck in traffic in an Uber instead of your own car?

“Drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico City lately have found themselves being buzzed by a fleet of sign-toting drones. “Driving by yourself?” some scolded in Spanish. “This is why you can never see the volcanoes”—a reference to the smog that often hovers over the mega-city and obscures two nearby peaks. It wasn’t exactly a plea for environmentalism, though—it was an ad for UberPOOL, part of Uber’s big push into markets across Latin America. As Bloomberg points out, Uber already does more business in Mexico City than any other city it operates in, and Brazil is its third-largest market after the U.S. and India. Uber sees Latin American countries as generally easier targets for expansion than either of its top two markets.”

4)          IBM Is Counting on Its Bet on Watson, and Paying Big Money for It

IBM has missed every technological shift since the PC despite frittering away billions buying countless companies. They have smart scientists but management appears to be dominated by the “Pointy Haired Boss” from Dilbert. Given their aptitude for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory I doubt their efforts to monetize AI will be any different.

“IBM has invested billions of dollars in its Watson business unit, created at the start of 2014, which now employs an estimated 10,000 workers. Its big-ticket marketing push includes clever television ads that feature Watson trading quips with famous people like Serena Williams and Bob Dylan. And Watson, after a slow start, has shown its mettle by assisting in daunting tasks like diagnosing cancer. Yet industry experts question how quickly IBM can build a business around Watson. “IBM has pursued big, bespoke moonshot initiatives that can take years and are extremely expensive,” said Tom Austin, a research fellow at Gartner. “It seems like they’re swimming upstream with that.””

5)          Lies, Damn Lies, and Startup PR

This article is good for a chuckle. A lot of “unicorns” are being prepared for IPOs on the theory their owners believe there is more opportunity for them if you own the stock than if they own the stock. This article isn’t really about a unicorn but it provides some insight into the “Silicon Valley Bubble” and the limited amount of thinking which goes into funding a lot of startups. To be fair for most startups the product is their stock and whether they have any hope of ever turning a profit is moot.

“So what is it? It’s a $700 juicer that you buy (yes, seven hundred dollars), and then in the same way you buy different coffee pods for a Keurig, you buy different types of juice packets which range up to $10 each (yes, ten dollars). Hey, pre-cleaning and chopping organic (of course) fruit then putting it in a non-degradable packet is hard work! Pop the juice packet into the juicer, press a button, and a minute later you have a glass of juice. Then you throw away the packet, nothing to clean. But wait, there’s more. The packet has a QR code on it (those square, 2D barcodes) and the system reads the QR code to compare with an internet database (it’s WiFi connected of course) and see if the packet is in date – if you’re in luck the system will press the juice for you just right. If not, or your internet happens to be down, no such luck and the $10 you spent will get you nothing.”

6)          Quantum computers: 10-fold boost in stability achieved

What I liked about this article is that it highlights a dirty little secret of Quantum Computers (QCs): namely the very short amount of time they can run. In a nutshell, QCs work because the qbits are kept in a state of quantum superposition. That state is lost the instant there is interaction with any outside influence (i.e. a photon, a particle, etc.). It is very hard to isolate qbits from the universe so quantum superposition can’t last long. As fast as QCs might be for certain applications they have to be controlled externally by a traditional computer and that can only do so many things in a few milliseconds.

“The results are striking: since the electromagnetic field steadily oscillates at a very high frequency, any noise or disturbance at a different frequency results in a zero net effect. The researchers achieved an improvement by a factor of 10 in the time span during which a quantum superposition can be preserved. Specifically, they measured a dephasing time of T2*=2.4 milliseconds – a result that is 10-fold better than the standard qubit, allowing many more operations to be performed within the time span during which the delicate quantum information is safely preserved.”

7)           “I’ve seen pretty much all your tech secrets”

I’ve written in the past that the core problem with NSA snooping is that they are acting as aggregators for spies. Since the NSA hoovers up everything (personal information as well as private corporate information, military information, etc.) a double agent inside NSA can distribute that data to his paymaster. I’ve said in the past that Snowden was obviously not the only guy inside who had figured this out: I am proved right by this development. There are doubtless hundreds of others working inside NSA and doing the same thing though obviously more discretely. You can’t employ hundreds of thousands of people and keep secret like that.

“Government prosecutors intend to file charges under the Espionage Act against a former NSA contractor who was arrested in August and charged with stealing a massive trove of top-secret intelligence documents. In court papers filed Thursday [you can read them below], the government said Navy veteran Harold T. Martin III stole 50,000 gigabytes of data over the course of two decades, which far exceeds the number of documents Edward Snowden took from the NSA and leaked to journalists. (One gigabyte can store about 10,000 pages.)”

8)          Telstra, Ericsson, Qualcomm unveil 1Gbps 4G network, mobile router, 5G modem

I have a couple of articles on 5G wireless this week. This one talks about 5G and 1Gbps 4G. It is not really clear to me why they refer to the Netgear router, except perhaps they expect the 5G technology will mostly be used in doors (see the next article). 5G will be much faster than 4G, use much higher frequencies (good bye spectrum shortage) but have shorter reach. Early on it will be ideal for deployment of broadband in competition with wired broadband since it will be very cheap to deploy the “last mile” to the customers.

“Telstra’s network attains 1Gbps speeds when used in conjunction with the newly announced Netgear Mobile Router MR1100m, which runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE modem and Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi solution. The Netgear Mobile Router MR1100m is the first consumer device capable of reaching download speeds up to 1Gbps over 4G. It attains gigabit speeds via 3x carrier aggregation; 4×4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) on two aggregated carriers; 2×2 MIMO on a third carrier; and Higher Order Modulation 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM).”

9)          Millimeter-wave 5G modem coming mid-2018 with 5Gbps peak download

I thought this article had a pretty good explanation of some of the advantages of 5G. Besides exploiting a huge swath of spectrum, the diagrams give a pretty good idea how MIMO and beam forming work. Both are sophisticated antenna technologies which make use of, and even benefit from, the fact that higher frequency radio is like light in that it bounces off walls and buildings.

“The X50 5G will at first operate with a bandwidth of about 800MHz on the 28GHz millimetre wave (mmWave in Qualcomm jargon) spectrum, a frequency that’s also being investigated by Samsung, Nokia, and Verizon. However, the powers that be have far from settled on this area of the spectrum, with 73GHz also being mooted. In the UK, Ofcom is investigating several bands in a range between 6GHz and 100GHz. As the industry as a whole is a long way from consensus, this could be Qualcomm’s bid to get the final frequency locked down well before 2020—the year that 5G is expected to reach any kind of consumer penetration.”

10)      Can CRISPR Save Ben Dupree?

I figure 20 years from now CRISPR-CAS9 will be considered one of the greatest advances in science. The technology allows reliable and highly precise editing of the genome, meaning that genetic defects can be corrected, mutant cells targeted, and genes essentially rewritten at will. This has obvious application in genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cancer but will have tremendous application in agriculture and industrial processes.

“Dupree, who majored in biochemistry and hopes to become a genetic counselor, has sometimes imagined what life would be like if that small error were not there. A year ago, in December, he learned how a technology called CRISPR might make that possible. A scientist named Eric Olson had requested some of Dupree’s blood a few months earlier, and Dupree had agreed. Soon he was rolling through the lab on his TiLite wheelchair so Olson, a biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, could show him the results—and what some scientists now predict is the likeliest way to cure Duchenne.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 14th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 14th 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)          Is Comcast Imposing Data Caps to Cash in Before the Fixed Wireless Boom?

I don’t exactly follow the conspiracy theory reasoning but what I found interesting about this article is the extent to which broadband service providers are testing fixed wireless technologies. Fixed wireless has several advantages: it is cheap and fast to deploy and you don’t have to dig up roads and back yards. Most significantly, especially in the US wireless service is subject to state and local regulation and lobbying has severely limited competition whereas wireless is federally regulated and that should open up the market. Most significantly emerging wireless technologies open up a massive amount of spectrum in the highest frequencies which, combined with reuse, should do away with the myth of spectrum shortage.

“Why impose an unpopular policy that will supply limited revenue? The answer may be fixed wireless. Fixed wireless utilizes 5G technology to bring fiber to homes without the messy infrastructure that—so far—has posed extensive issues for Google Fiber. Comcast isn’t a wireless provider yet, although they’d like to be. But this means they aren’t well situated to take advantage of 5G technology to deliver faster speeds to homes, unlike other telecoms such as Verizon and AT&T. And if you look at the cities and states where Comcast is pushing out data caps, many of them are exactly the areas where fixed wireless is currently being tested.”

2)          ATSC 3.0: What you need to know about the future of broadcast television

Over the Air (OTA) TV broadcast benefits from a favorable environment in the US where pretty much anybody has a right to install and antenna and broadcasters transmit at high power to reach as many consumers as possible. “Cordcutters” typically invest in an antenna for local news and sports and subscribe to one or more streaming services like Netflix for movies, etc.. I suspect broadcast TV is going to change but it will be with us for a long time. The “hybrid” model is intriguing because it presents the possibility for targets adds, product placements, etc..

“As you’d expect in today’s connected world, something the original creators of ATSC 1.0 couldn’t have dreamed about a quarter century ago, ATSC 3.0 is being created with the idea that most devices will be Internet-connected. They envision a “hybrid” system, where the main content (audio and video) will be sent over the air, but other content (targeted ads, for example) will get sent over broadband and integrated into the program. The transmission itself will be IP-based, like how video is send over the Internet, instead of the current MPEG stream. The easiest way to imagine this difference is the current OTA broadcast is like water from your faucet. The new system will be bottles of water: same amount of water, just handled differently. This opens up a number of options for broadcasters and content providers, not least encryption and access restriction (yep, we all should have expected that), but also end-user-friendly features like video-on-demand.”

3)          ACLU exposes Facebook, Twitter for feeding surveillance company user data

Sorry I am not really shocked. Social media users generally sign their privacy over to companies like Facebook and Facebook is in the business of selling personal information to whoever wants it. If that is another corporation, an insurance company, the police or some foreign dictator so be it. Facebook is amoral and you should expect it to behave amorally. As long as you use the service they will do with you whatever they can get away with.

“The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday outed Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for feeding a Chicago-based company their user streams—a feed that was then sold to police agencies for surveillance purposes. After the disclosure, the social media companies said they stopped their data firehouse to Chicago-based Geofeedia. In a blog post, the ACLU said it uncovered the data feeds as part of a public records request campaign of California law enforcement agencies. Geofeedia touts how it helped police track unrest during protests.”

4)          How NSA Broke Trillions of Encrypted Connections

I had a number of articles about various facets of NSA’s diabolical schemes this week but I figured I’d just go with this one. I need to point out a few things: almost certainly Snowden is not the only person working for NSA who was not loyal to the US government. That means the data which was hoovered up is also in the hand of multiple foreign actors because NSA is working as an intelligence agency for the Russians, Chinese, Israelis, etc.. Another thing is, as hard as it is to believe, there are other smart people in the world. Many of them don’t work for NSA. Some are even criminals. So stuff like this just makes it easy for them.

“In the year 2014, we came to know about the NSA’s ability to break Trillions of encrypted connections by exploiting common implementations of the Diffie-Hellman key exchange algorithm – thanks to classified documents leaked by ex-NSA employee Edward Snowden. At that time, computer scientists and senior cryptographers had presented the most plausible theory: Only a few prime numbers were commonly used by 92 percent of the top 1 Million Alexa HTTPS domains that might have fit well within the NSA’s $11 Billion-per-year budget dedicated to “ground breaking cryptanalytic capabilities.” And now, researchers from University of Pennsylvania, INRIA, CNRS and Université de Lorraine have practically proved how the NSA broke the most widespread encryption used on the Internet.”

5)          Pentagon Confronts a New Threat From ISIS: Exploding Drones

The actual attack was more of a booby trap than anything else, but we warned about the use of consumer drones in terror attacks some time ago. Fortunately, consumer drones can’t carry much explosive but unfortunately the same technology can be used to guide model airplanes with gas engines which can, in fact, carry a few pounds of explosives. The fact that ISIS appears to be using drones for surveillance and targeting is also pretty interesting.

“In the last month, the Islamic State has tried to use small drones to launch attacks at least two other times, prompting American commanders in Iraq to issue a warning to forces fighting the group to treat any type of small flying aircraft as a potential explosive device. The Islamic State has used surveillance drones on the battlefield for some time, but the attacks — all targeting Iraqi troops — have highlighted its success in adapting readily accessible technology into a potentially effective new weapon. American advisers say drones could be deployed against coalition forces by the terrorist group in the battle in Mosul.”

6)          IBM’s Brain-Inspired Chip Tested for Deep Learning

The development of “deep learning” neural network models was a big breakthrough in AI though they have their limitations. IBM has developed a device which implements similar function in hardware so there is some potential there. One problem with a hardware neural net is that the number of connections is bound to be fixed whereas with software you can change the data structures to add as many as you like – though there is a computational penalty for that. Even though both hardware and software neural nets can be described as “brain inspired” they are more like a crude approximation to our limited understanding of brain function.

““The new milestone provides a palpable proof of concept that the efficiency of brain-inspired computing can be merged with the effectiveness of deep learning, paving the path towards a new generation of chips and algorithms with even greater efficiency and effectiveness,” says Dharmendra Modha, chief scientist for brain-inspired computing at IBM Research-Almaden, in San Jose, Calif. IBM first laid down the specifications for TrueNorth and a prototype chip in 2011. So, TrueNorth predated—and was therefore never specifically designed to harness—the deep-learning revolution based on convolutional neural networks that took off starting in 2012. Instead, TrueNorth typically supports spiking neural networks that more closely mimic the way real neurons work in biological brains.”

7)          In a first, brain computer interface helps paralyzed man feel again

I have nerve damage to my left hand and that left me with no feeling for a couple years. It made fine motor control very difficult and even now with a fair bit of numbness I have nowhere near the control I used to have. The ability to confer feeling to a prosthesis will probably lead to much better results in terms of use and dexterity.

“Imagine being in an accident that leaves you unable to feel any sensation in your arms and fingers. Now imagine regaining that sensation, a decade later, through a mind-controlled robotic arm that is directly connected to your brain. That is what 28-year-old Nathan Copeland experienced after he came out of brain surgery and was connected to the Brain Computer Interface (BCI), developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC. In a study published online today in Science Translational Medicine, a team of experts led by Robert Gaunt, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Pitt, demonstrated for the first time ever in humans a technology that allows Mr. Copeland to experience the sensation of touch through a robotic arm that he controls with his brain.”

8)          Half of the Jet Fusion 3D printer’s plastic parts are actually 3D printed, HP reveals

Enthusiasts like to tout the use of 3D printers to produce 3D printer parts but the parts they produce are generally of low quality and poor quality materials. HP has recently entered the game and is doing what it can to gain market share. The technology is very impressive and the story is credible.

“This is much more than just a cool bonus feature, as it says a lot about the quality of the parts involved. Of course, DIY RepRap 3D printer makers pride themselves on manufacturing every possible part on a desktop 3D printer, but this does not necessarily improve printer’s quality or reliability. When it comes to a 3D printer that costs about $130,000, however, the quality of the machine is understandably paramount. In that respect, HP’s decision to 3D print a significant part of the printer’s components underlines just how reliable and high quality their technology actually is – and how cost effective. As he revealed, any product batch consisting of fewer than 55,000 pieces can actually be cheaper to produce through 3D printing than through molding.”

9)          Fresno woman says her iPhone exploded and caught on fire in her bedroom

The spontaneous combustion of Samsung’s flagship phone has created a lot of deserved negative attention for the firm. Recall of all of the affected products is going to cost the company billions and it will take some time to rebuild its reputation. It turns out that Samsung has no idea why the phones burst into flames however most experts seem to believe it has to do with the materials used in making thin batteries for thin phones. Unsurprisingly Samsung is not the only company with this problem as there have also been numerous reports of iPhone 6 Pluses catching fire (Google it). Even though the reports have been coming in for months, Apple enthusiasts are denouncing them as “Samsung disinformation”.

“For Yvette Estrada, it was a harsh wake-up call after she says a flash followed by flames jolted her out of bed. It was caused by her iPhone 6 Plus that was charging on the dresser. “I heard a sizzling, then we heard the pop and the whole fire was coming out of the screen,” she described. Estrada said the explosion started a small fire, and her husband put it out by throwing the phone in a sink. “He put water on it and told me to call 911,” she said. By the time firefighters showed up, which was around 3 a.m., there was just ash, debris and a melted phone.”

10)      Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news since firing its human editors

I know this is a second Facebook story but I found it intriguing because much of the “real” news I see is fake, distorted, or otherwise wrong. So, perhaps it matters whether a piece of puffer regarding a celebrity being robbed is from a “real” news source or simply made up from whole cloth but I rather doubt it. The corporatization of media concurrent with but unrelated to the loss of advertising to online media means that increasingly news items are a collection of “tweets” or a narrative of associated with an online phenomenon. As to whether your news feed in Facebook carries real garbage or fake garbage, well what does it matter?

“The Megyn Kelly incident was supposed to be an anomaly. An unfortunate one-off. A bit of (very public, embarrassing) bad luck. But in the six weeks since Facebook revamped its Trending system — and a hoax about the Fox News Channel star subsequently trended — the site has repeatedly promoted “news” stories that are actually works of fiction. As part of a larger audit of Facebook’s Trending topics, the Intersect logged every news story that trended across four accounts during the workdays from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22. During that time, we uncovered five trending stories that were indisputably fake and three that were profoundly inaccurate.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 7th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 7th 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)          Here’s Why Software Patents Are in Peril After the Intellectual Ventures Ruling

This ruling is yet another of a series which suggests the traditional business of patent troll may be fading into the sunset. Software patents have always been an abomination and their misapplication had enriched many a lawyer. I am a big supporter of the patent system but it appears it went off the rails 20 years ago and needs to be turned around. Mind you that would take political action.

“The most important part of the decision, which has created a stir among the patent bar, is a concurrence by Circuit Judge Haldane Mayer. In striking down a key claim from U.S. Patent 5987610, which claims a monopoly on using anti-virus tools within a phone network, Mayer says it is time to acknowledge that a famous Supreme Court 2014 decision known as “Alice” basically ended software patents altogether.”

2)          Toyota’s Robot-Car Line In The Sand: 8.8 Billion Test Miles To Ensure Safety

After the first publicly announced death associated with Tesla’s “Autopilot” system (there had been one prior to that) Tesla got a lot of publicity by falsely claim “Autopilot” was twice as safe as a human driver (ignoring the earlier fatality) (see also The folks at Toyota have apparently done the math and the answer is a bit bigger than you might think.

“TRI is bringing to life Toyota’s vision of autonomous driving, which follows a double approach. The first type of application is ‘Chauffeur Mode,’ where the car is fully autonomous,” Toyoda said in remarks at the company’s Paris press conference. “It has the potential to offer mobility to those who would not otherwise have it, such as older people and those with special needs. In order to accomplish this safely, it is estimated that some 14.2 billion kilometers (8.8 billion miles) of testing, including simulation, are required.”

3)          Exclusive: Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence – sources

This bit of unsurprising news came out this week. It is unsurprising because the Snowden revelations prove the US tech firms enthusiastically collude with US intelligence. Needless to say, absent (updated) proof the other email providers are denying they would do such a thing. ( Frankly it is hard to believe US intelligence targeted one of the least popular email providers in isolation.

“Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter. The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events. Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time. It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.”

4)          With HDDs On The Ropes, Samsung Predicts SSD Price Collisions As NVMe Takes Over

Samsung offers facts and figures which pretty much line up with my own analysis of what is going to happen though their projection of the “crossover point” is probably farther into the future than my own. I would not buy a laptop without an SSD or unless I knew I could upgrade it immediately after purchase so I expect the PC industry will adopt SSDs as soon as they can. Oddly enough, HDD stocks have rebounded despite the obvious likelihood the industry will collapse over the next few years.

“Unfortunately for HDDs, there is roughly a $40 price floor that they simply cannot get under. That’s the minimum dollar amount needed to provide the HDD casing, motors, heads, and other components–regardless of how low the capacity is. SSDs can scale well below $40 in smaller capacities, which is important in the cost-sensitive notebook market. SSDs have already displaced HDDs in 40% of new notebooks, and Samsung predicts that it will reach 55% penetration in 2018. Samsung’s prediction is slightly lower than other industry estimates, which indicate that 52% of notebooks will have an SSD next year.”,32762.html

5)          Tesla’s Cozy Relations With Banks Have Lost That Loving Feeling

This is more an article about the abysmal state of Wall Street research than it is about Tesla. Even that doesn’t bother me so much (after all – it is an opportunity as well) if the impact was mostly felt by institutional money managers who are well aware of the “conflicts”. The real tragedy is that individual investors do not fully appreciate how the system works and invest their hard earned money on the basis of “analysis” primarily designed to be an advertisement or quid pro quo for banking services.

“Elon Musk is losing some of his big Wall Street cheerleaders just when he needs them the most. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., one of Musk’s top bankers, has reversed course and cut its recommendation on the entrepreneur’s flagship Tesla Motors Inc., following a similar move by another big booster, Morgan Stanley. Goldman’s decision, announced Thursday, comes as Musk is under growing pressure to rally investors for a new fundraising round. … Both Goldman and Morgan Stanley have been big owners of the stock. Their analysts have, on occasion, recommended the shares right around the time that the firm’s underwriters were lead managers on a new round of funding.”

6)          Three Challenges for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

AI in the “real sense” (i.e. no killer robots) should be a very useful technology in medicine provided the conclusions are double checked by a human (see item 8 for why). The medical profession is pretty conservative for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that lives are at stake. One thing that bugs me about the article is the discussion of the perverse (dis)incentives within the US medical system as those should work strongly in favor of AI outside the US. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“In fact, although we’re surrounded by fantastic applications of modern AI, particularly deep learning — self-driving cars, Siri, AlphaGo, Google Translate, computer vision — the effect on medicine has been nearly nonexistent. In the top cardiology journal, Circulation, the term “deep learning” appears only twice [2]. Deep learning has never been mentioned in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, BMJ, or even JAMA, where the work on MYCIN was published 37 years ago. What happened?”

7)          Oculus lowers minimum Rift specs using “asynchronous spacewarp” tech

I remain skeptical as to whether VR will become as mainstream as many predict however one of the problems with the early software was that it required a sizeable investment in computing and graphics. This may have led to over excitement for graphics stocks like NVIDIA (which is, bizarrely at an all-time high). Lowering computing requirements is good for Facebook because it will probably increase the penetration of Oculus. It is not so good for graphics and PC companies however.

“Hence, the Oculus Rift officially supports PC hardware that’s less powerful than it did before. That includes a new $499 Oculus Ready PC from CyberPowerPC and AMD. Oculus is also certifying four Oculus-ready laptops from the likes of ASUS, Alienware, Lenovo, Aorus. Iribe promised that, within a few years, there will be hundreds of laptops that meet that Oculus Ready spec. For now, though, Iribe said “PC VR is more affordable than ever.”

8)          Why AI Makes It Hard to Prove That Self-Driving Cars Are Safe

This is more a general discussion of the challenges of testing AI based software solutions. The idea here is that AI makes use of “training” and that training is necessarily incomplete. The outcome is not deterministic because it depends on the training and the sequence in which is presented. That is no so bad when you are classifying cats and dogs but problematic when lives are involved.

“To make things more concrete, imagine if you test drive your self-driving car and want it to learn how to avoid pedestrians. So you have people in orange safety shirts stand around and you let the car loose. It might be training to recognize hands, arms, and legs—or maybe it’s training to recognize an orange shirt. Or, more subtly, imagine that you’ve conducted the training during the summer, and nobody wore a hat. And the first hat the self-driving car sees on the streets freaks it out. … Google researchers once tried identifying dumbbells with an artificial neural network, a common machine learning model that mimics the neurons in the brain and their connections. Surprisingly, the trained model could identify dumbbells in images only when an arm was attached.”

9)          Smartphone, PC Shipments Slow as Markets Mature

I would not pay money for industry research but the fact Gartner et als are forecasting slowing growth in smartphones tells you things must be blindingly obvious. One important note is that these figures are unit sales, not revenue, and a mature market is characterized by significant pricing pressure in developed markets (i.e. the US, EU, etc), and increased relative unit sales in the developing world – where smartphone prices are well below $100.

“Total mobile phone shipments are on pace to fall 1.6 percent in 2016, and while the smartphone segment continues to grow, it is expanding more slowly than in previous years, and is expected to reach 1.5 billion units in 2016. This year, the Android market is expected to continue to be bolstered by Chinese vendors offering more affordable premium devices. Despite the availability of Apple’s recently released iPhone 7, Gartner expects a weaker year-over-year volume performance from Apple in 2016, as volumes stabilize after a very strong 2015. As a result, the research firm expects the total smartphone market to only increase 4.5 percent, with premium smartphones declining 1.1 percent in 2016.”

10)      Toyota is going to sell a very small ‘buddy robot’ for $400

A while back I saw a short news item on the angst of Japanese who had bought a “robotic dog” which was discontinued by its manufacturer. The owners were spending large sums of money having the devices repaired, often by sacrificing other units. The entire story was baffling so perhaps it is a cultural thing I simply cannot understand. The ad is interesting even though it is in Japanese. Again, the cultural angle seems important.

“Following Kirobo’s successful space jaunt, the car company decided to back the development of a smaller version of the already small robot, calling it – rather appropriately – Kirobo Mini. It unveiled the diminutive droid at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota announced on Monday that Kirobo Mini will go on sale in Japan next year for 39,800 yen (about $390), though a 300-yen (about $2.95) monthly subscription fee will also be necessary. Besides the robot itself, you’ll also receive a “cradle” that’s designed to fit inside a car’s cup holder, ensuring that the robot travels in style wherever you take it. Just don’t forget it’s there when you’re drinking a hot coffee.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 30th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 30th 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)          Latest IoT DDoS Attack Dwarfs Krebs Takedown At Nearly 1Tbps Driven By 150K Devices

We have written about the low level of security in Internet of Things (IoT) devices in the past. Mostly this was from the perspective of how IoT could compromise your home or business network but hackers have quickly turned these weaknesses to their advantage in launching cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, most IoT vendors have neither the aptitude nor the inclination to do anything about the security of their products so the problem is likely to get much worse.

“If you thought that the massive DDoS attack earlier this month on Brian Krebs’ security blog was record-breaking, take a look at what just happened to France-based hosting provider OVH. OVH was the victim of a wide-scale DDoS attack that was carried via network of over 152,000 IoT devices. According to OVH founder and CTO Octave Klaba, the DDoS attack reached nearly 1 Tbps at its peak. Of those IoT devices participating in the DDoS attack, they were primarily comprised of CCTV cameras and DVRs. Many of these types devices’ network settings are improperly configured, which leaves them ripe for the picking for hackers that would love to use them to carry our destructive attacks.”

2)          HERE, automakers team up to share data on traffic conditions

This is an example of what is to come: using “crowd sourced” information to determine road conditions and other automotive related data. These are all German firms and the test is in Germany so it is a bit hard to imagine how it would work in North America with its spotty and expensive mobile coverage. Ultimately the infrastructure itself will be a source of highly detailed information regarding local conditions. By the way, HERE makes a cool free Google Maps application which stores the maps on your phone so it works even if you don’t have mobile data.

“German digital map maker HERE will introduce a new set of traffic services this week that allows drivers to see for themselves what live road conditions are like miles ahead using data from competing automakers, an industry first. The Berlin-based company, owned by Germany’s three premium automakers, will provide four services in which drivers share detailed video views of traffic jams or accidents, potential road hazards like fog or slippery streets, traffic signs including temporary speed limits and on-street parking. BMW (BMWG.DE), Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) will all contribute data to the service, making their first big collaboration since they bought HERE for 2.8 billion euros ($3.1 billion) late last year from mobile equipment maker Nokia NOK1V.HE of Finland.”

3)          Banks adopting blockchain ‘dramatically faster’ than expected: IBM

IBM is pushing its blockchain capabilities so you have to take this with a grain of salt. Even so, there is no guarantee these projects will be successful no matter how they are measured. Nonetheless with modification blockchain technology has the potential to significantly reduce a lot of manual handling of transactions and reduce costs for banks and other financial institutions.

“Banks and other financial institutions are adopting blockchain technology “dramatically faster” than initially expected, with 15 percent of top global banks intending to roll out full-scale, commercial blockchain products in 2017, IBM said on Wednesday. The technology company said 65 percent of banks expected to have blockchain projects in production in three years’ time, with larger banks – those with more than 100,000 employees – leading the charge. IBM, whose findings were based on a survey of 200 banks, said the areas most commonly identified by lenders as ripe for blockchain-based innovation were clearing and settlement, wholesale payments, equity and debt issuance and reference data.”

4)          Print-on-demand bone could quickly mend major injuries

Compared to organs bones are pretty simple things and there are plenty of materials which can safely be used as a bone substitute. The idea here is that rather than grafting bone from one part of your body to another (double the pain and risk) or looking around for a prepared cadaver bone (ick) they print up what is needed. The article makes a big deal about how this material is “hyperelastic” but it is not clear to me what the advantage is: after all if the scaffolding can move around how do you know what the end product looks like once the real bone forms.

“If you shatter a bone in the future, a 3D printer and some special ink could be your best medicine. Researchers have created what they call “hyperelastic bone” that can be manufactured on demand and works almost as well as the real thing, at least in monkeys and rats. Though not ready to be implanted in humans, bioengineers are optimistic that the material could be a much-needed leap forward in quickly mending injuries ranging from bones wracked by cancer to broken skulls. “This is a neat way to overcome the challenges we face in generating bone replacements,” says Jos Malda, a biomaterials engineer from Utrecht University in the Netherlands who was not involved in the work. “The scaffold is simpler to make than others and it offers more benefits.”

5)          WSJ: Qualcomm could spend over $30 billion to acquire NXP Semiconductor

Semiconductors industry consolidation has been a major theme for the past couple years. Although industry M&A is not as destructive of value as most tech acquisitions purported “synergies” rarely emerge. Nevertheless the ever imaginative application of “non-GAAP” adjustments can make things look a lot better than they really are for a while after the deal closes. In this case, Qualcomm is faced with the inevitable decline in demand for mobile related components so it likely believe it can improve things by devolving into a miscellaneous assortment of largely unrelated businesses. The funny thing is the enterprise value of NXP today is closer to $40B than $30B today which suggests the deal would likely cost closer to $50B than $30B.

“Smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm is in talks to acquire NXP Semiconductors “in the next two to three months,” according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The deal, which may cost Qualcomm over $30 billion, could be nearly as big as SoftBank’s $32 billion buyout of ARM Holdings that was announced a couple of months ago. NXP is one of the inventors of near-field communication (NFC), a technology primarily known for enabling wireless payment services like Apple Pay and Android Pay. NXP controllers are nearly ubiquitous in modern smartphones in both the iOS and Android ecosystems—the iPhone 6, 6S, and 7 all use NXP controllers, as do Android phones like the Galaxy S7 and Nexus 6P. The company is also a major player in the “Internet of Things” industry, and the acquisition of Freescale Semiconductor for $12 billion late last year made NXP “the world’s top maker of automotive electronics.””

6)          D-Wave’s 2,000-Qubit Quantum Annealing Computer Now 1,000x Faster Than Previous Generation

D-Wave gets so much press for its “Quantum Computers” it’s almost a pity the machines don’t seem to be able to do anything useful. As for the claims it can simulate “quantum annealing” hundreds of millions of times faster than a single core computer, well bully for them: a capacitor runs hundreds of millions of times faster than a simulation of a capacitor. If, as, and when, a D-Wave machine can solve a commercially relevant problem orders of magnitude faster than off the shelf electronics we can discuss whether it is significant technologically.

“D-Wave has been criticized by many quantum computing experts, who, for one, say it’s not a true universal quantum computer (which Google itself and IBM are now building), and second, they don’t believe D-Wave’s “quantum annealing computer” is all that useful compared to standard computers. A quantum annealing computer is a special-purpose quantum computer, so the difference between it and a universal quantum computer is kind of like the difference between an ASIC and a CPU. In theory, D-Wave’s computer should at least be useful for some optimization problems, where you have many variables and are trying to optimize for the best solution. Last year, Google announced that its tests show that for quantum annealing tasks, D-Wave’s 1,000-qubit computer proved to be 100 million times faster than a classical computer with a single core:”,32768.html

7)          Fist-Sized Laser Scanner to Make Autonomous Cars Less Ugly

One of the most important technologies behind driverless cars is combined image and range information (i.e. where something is in 3 dimensions). This sort of information you need to avoid slamming into a tractor trailer or stationary vehicle at high speed as does Tesla’s “Autopilot”. Most LIDAR systems have been developed for the military and as a result are staggeringly expensive. I figure these will eventually cost $10 or so and cars will have a minimum of 4 of them to provide a 360 degree view and full redundancy.

““You’ll never know that they’re even in the vehicle,” says Louay Eldada, CEO of startup Quanergy, which invented the new design and turned to sensor company Sensata to manufacture it. Sensors can be hidden in places such as behind a car’s grill, or inside the rearview or side mirrors, says Eldada. Quanergy plans to price its compact lidar at $250. You’ll need three to match the 360-degree view of the bulky sensors atop Alphabet and Uber vehicles, but sensors of that type cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.”

8)          Colossal Self-Driving Mining Truck Has No Back or Front

Remotely operated mining vehicles have been in use for some time now. I suspect that is what this is but the news coverage focused on the “self-driving” aspect so it is impossible to say for sure given the information. The idea is a good one as the animation ( shows. Mining is a closed loop operation and therefore even if the truck is in fact an AV the challenges would be reduced considerably. Not only that but putting human drivers in a cab is very expensive and these machine should operate 24 hours a day so there should be a rapid pay back.

“Semi-autonomous vehicles are becoming more common at large-scale mining operations. The huge dump trucks that ferry material around giant dig sites have featured unmanned driving capabilities for a few years, though they’ve always had provisions for human drivers to take over. Now, Komatsu has unveiled an all-new heavy duty dump truck with no cab, no steering wheel, no windshield—no accommodations for human drivers whatsoever. And with no human driver, who’s to say which end is the front and which is the back? Think of what a benefit this would be to mining companies. Traditionally, the human operator sits at the front of the hauling truck, with the dump bed unloading from the rear. This forces the trucks to turn around frequently, adding complexity to the movement of materials.”

9)          The Best Chromebooks Money Can Buy 2016: Andromeda is COMING

Chromebooks are a rapidly growing component of the PC market. Because they are based on a browser and cloud technologies manufacturers have a lot more latitude with respect to their CPU and innards so they can be built quite cheaply. Andromeda combines Chrome with Android, meaning pretty much any app which runs on Android will now run on a Chromebook. I don’t really see the point of paying $1,000 for a high end Chromebook since you can buy a standalone (i.e. Windows) PC for a fraction of that cost. Nevertheless the low end machines are ideal for kids and travel.

“Google’s Chromebooks have been something of a quiet revolution in the computing space. A lot of people still don’t know about Chromebooks, preferring to use Apple and Microsoft for their laptop and desktop needs. However, more and more people are waking up to a third way — the ChromeOS way. The reasons for this are myriad; but the two most prominent reasons why people LOVE Chromebooks are price and choice. Like Android phones, Chromebooks come in all shapes and sizes from a variety of manufacturers. You have high end machines like the Pixel and entry-level models that can be picked up for $200.”

10)      Programmable chips turning Azure into a supercomputing powerhouse

Intel closed the Altera acquisition some time ago and Microsoft’s use of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (a type of chip which can have its functionality completely changed after manufacture) provides some insight as to what these devices can do. The thing to remember is that having a bunch of these in a datacenter is completely different from having one inside a PC: unless somebody comes up with a suite of premade FPGA algorithms for home use – and frankly it is hard to imagine what those would be – this will remain a datacenter only type solution, albeit a powerful one.

“Networking is the first workload in Azure, but it’s not going to be the only one. In principle, Microsoft could offer a menu of FPGA-accelerated algorithms (pattern matching, machine learning, and certain kinds of large-scale number crunching would all be good candidates) that virtual machine users could opt into, and longer term custom programming of the FPGAs could be an option. Microsoft gave a demonstration at its Ignite conference this week of just what this power could be used for. Distinguished engineer Doug Burger, who had led the Project Catapult work, demonstrated a machine translation of all 3 billion words of English Wikipedia on thousands of FPGAs simultaneously, crunching through the entire set of data in just a tenth of a second. The total processing power of all those FPGAs together was estimated at about 1 exa-operations—one billion billion, 1018 operations—per second, working on an artificial intelligence-style workload.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 23rd 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 23rd 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)          Intel’s Xpoint is pretty much broken

Intel offered a wide range in terms of targets etc., when it announced Xpoint and it is not surprising they would start at the low end and work themselves up to the high end over time. Mind you novel memory technologies do have a tendency of arriving with a splash and then fading to obscurity.

“Back to the serious side of things, we have three direct claims by Intel about their upcoming NVRAM technology called Xpoint. They claimed 10x the density of DRAM, it is now 4x or a 2.5x decrease. That is a stunning deliverable but sadly it is the best performance of any of their claims. Latency missed by 100x, yes one hundred times, on their claim of 1000x faster, 10x is now promised and backed up by tests. More troubling is endurance, probably the main selling point of this technology over NAND. Again the claim was a 1000x improvement, Intel delivered 1/333rd of that with 3x the endurance.”

2)          The New Space Race Signals Price Crash for Satellite Data

Many space based technologies are the sort of thing you can do on land but it takes a decade or so to design, test, launch, and deploy a satellite and technologies advance a fair bit in 10 years. Satellite Internet service in general is only desirable when there are no other options, mostly because of latency. Terrestrial wireless Internet is making great strides while the satellite providers have managed to push more bandwidth through their spacecraft. In other words the target market is shrinking as more and more capacity comes on line.

“While satellite use varies by region and type, some of those orbiting over regions like Africa and the Middle East have as much as 80 percent spare capacity, Curcio said. Services like residential broadband are less consistent than television, creating peaks and valleys in demand. Prices of some services have fallen by as much as 20 percent over the last few years, Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said. The company expects prices of satellite data transmissions to fall 50 percent over the next five years.”

3)          Over 840,000 Cisco Devices Affected by NSA-Linked Flaw

Oh, the horror! A hacker exposed the backdoors into Cisco’s equipment (a few weeks ago it was Apple) and now they have to patch them and replace them with entirely new backdoors. Those darn hackers they make work for everybody!

“According to Shadowserver, there is no evidence that the products of vendors other than Cisco are affected by the vulnerability, but the organization noted that it is not a conclusive test. Cisco discovered the security hole while analyzing an exploit dubbed “BENIGNCERTAIN.” This and other exploits were allegedly stolen by Shadow Brokers from the NSA-linked Equation Group. The company has warned that the vulnerability has been exploited against some of its customers. For the time being, most of the affected IOS software versions remain unpatched. Cisco has released a simple online tool that allows customers to determine if their products are affected. This is the second zero-day flaw found by Cisco after analyzing the Shadow Brokers leak. The exploit called “EXTRABACON” leveraged a previously unknown vulnerability in the company’s ASA software.”

4)          Telstra trials 5G mobile network, the next ‘quantum leap’ in technology

This is pretty light on the details but 5G wireless has the potential to move Internet service in backwaters like the US, Australia, and Canada into the modern age. I suspect the first applications for 5G will not be in mobile but in fixed wireless as power and size requirements are not as strict.

“”During the outdoor trial we saw total download speeds [to two mobiles] of greater than 20 gigabits per second [Gbps], so there’s no doubt 5G is going to be a lot faster than today’s mobile networks, but it will also deliver a much lower latency. The test bed used 800 megahertz of spectrum in a previously unattainable, high-frequency band, which is 10 times more spectrum than we use with our 4G service,” Mr Wright said. Theoretically, Tuesday’s test shows gigabit speeds could be available on a mobile up to 100 kilometres away from the nearest tower, Mr Wright said.”

5)          HP pre-programmed failure date of unofficial/ non-HP ink cartridges in its printers

It is surprising the same pseudo-environmentalists who go after bottled water (but not beer or soft drinks) and demand the grocery store charge you $0.05 for a plastic bag which cost $0.0033 don’t go after this sort of nonsense. Mind you HP graciously offers to “recycle” your cartridges (i.e. throw them away so they aren’t refilled). Maybe people should look at Epson eco-tanks or other vendors’ products.

“Investigation of an online printer ink retailer shows that HP has programmed a date in its printer firmware on which unofficial non-HP cartridges would fail. Thousands of HP printers around the world started to show error messages on the same day, the 13th of September 2016. On that date HP printers with non-HP cartridges started to show the error message, “One or more cartridges appear to be damaged. Remove them and replace them with new cartridges“. On HP’s support forums numerous complaints were posted and Dutch online retailer 123inkt also received a large amount of complaints on that day and decided to investigate the issue.”

6)          Cheap Lidar: The Key to Making Self-Driving Cars Affordable

This is a pretty superficial update on the state of LIDAR technology. The $80,000 unit was probably developed for the military so cost wasn’t even a factor. I figure it won’t be long before LIDAR is well below $50 and there is one on each corner of the car to provide redundancy.

“Many autonomous cars have relied on the HDL-64E lidar sensor from Silicon Valley–based Velodyne, which scans 2.2 million data points in its field of view each second and can pinpoint the location of objects up to 120 meters away with centimeter accuracy. But the sensor itself weighs more than 13 kilograms and costs US $80,000. This year, Velodyne announced the VLP-32A, which offers a 200-meter range in a 600-gram package. With a target cost of $500 (at automotive scale production), the VLP-32A would be two orders of magnitude cheaper than its predecessor but still too expensive to be integrated into driverless cars intended for the consumer market.”

7)          Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announce $3 billion initiative to ‘cure all diseases’

When I see things like this my immediate thought is the title of the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. I don’t understand billionaire worship, nor do I understand why an otherwise intelligent person would think throwing money at health would result in anything significant. It’s great to encourage philanthropy but, seriously, “cure, prevent, or manage “all diseases” in our children’s lifetime”? And then there is this: It’s almost like they don’t understand the nature of the problem.

“The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company created by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan to “unlock human potential and promote equality,” today announced Chan Zuckerberg Science, a $3 billion project that aims to cure, prevent, or manage “all diseases in our children’s lifetime.” “That doesn’t mean that no one will ever get sick,” Mark Zuckerberg later said. But the program hopes to eventually make all diseases treatable — or at least easily manageable — by the end of the 21st century. “Our society spends 50x more treating people who are sick than on finding cures. We can do better than that,” he said. A press release from the Initiative says Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan will provide “at least $3 billion over the next decade to help jumpstart this work.””

8)          Fastbrick Robotics Hadrian X Digital Construction System

The video is an update to an earlier story we had on brick laying robots. This machine is meant for structural block used in many countries for house construction rather than brick veneer which is familiar to most North Americans. Although most of the video is an animation they do show a sort of live action prototype. It is a bit hard to see but instead of mortar they apply an adhesive (probably polyurethane construction adhesive) instead of mortar. It would be more credible if they showed an actual house being built but the approach and prototype make it credible.

9)          The Department of Transportation just issued a comprehensive policy on self-driving cars

The article provides a pretty good summary of the high points of the US DOT policy. The good news is that DOT is promoting the technology, but the bad news is that it is nowhere near as advanced as most of the coverage would have you believe.

“So the US Department of Transportation is attempting to get ahead of the curve. On Monday, it released a surprisingly far-reaching “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.” The policy attempts to do all sorts of things — we’ll get into the details below — but the overarching motivation is that DOT wants to accelerate the development and adoption of AVs. DOT views AVs as a safety technology that could reduce some of the 38,000 traffic fatalities a year in the US, 95 percent of which are caused by human error. It also sees AVs as an accessibility technology that could provide personal transportation to whole populations (disabled, elderly, etc.) who have lacked it. The DOT is not neutral toward AVs. It wants to get them on the road soon. That’s a big deal.”

10)      A Robot That Sews Could Take the Sweat Out of Sweatshops

Another robotics story but this time showing a sewing robot. I like the approach of stiffening the fabric in order to make it easier for a robot to handle but I don’t know enough about sewing to know what the limitations would be. Unfortunately, the inventor in this case probably lacks the expertise and resources to actually make this into a viable product but there is a good chance somebody will.

“Jonathan Zornow, the sole employee of a new startup called Sewbo, thinks the U.S. could bring garment manufacturing a little closer to home by automating the feeding of fabric into sewing machines—a step that to this day is done by hand. Zornow has created a process by which a robotic arm guides chemically stiffened pieces of fabric through a commercial sewing machine. Machines already play a large part in clothing manufacturing. Fabrics can be woven by machines, and then cut into pieces by computer-controlled cutting machines. There are also a few small items like dress shirt collars and cuffs that can be machine-sewn, according to North Carolina State University textiles and apparel researcher Cynthia Istook. But humans still have to put all of the pieces of fabric together, guide them through a sewing machine, and then pass them onto the next assembly line station.”