The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 24 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 24 2017

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice. 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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

 

 

 

1)          A look at Tesla Powerwall ownership after 1 year as second generation is coming: 92% savings on utility bill

I marvel at stories like these. No data is provided, just a guy who may not be able to calculate a mortgage blathering on about how much money he’s saving. It sort of makes you wonder: if the savings are so profound, why don’t the utilities, who employ accountants and the like, massively invest in lithium ion batteries, rather than setting up a few photo opportunities? If they did that they sure as heck wouldn’t need Tesla to do it.

“Powerwall resellers in Australia combine the product with a solar array and that’s what Pfitzner family bought in January 2016: a 7 kWh Powerwall battery, a 5 kW solar array, a SolarEdge inverter and a Reposit monitoring system for a total of $16,790 (~$12,800 USD). Nick was expecting an 80% drop in his utility bill, which added up to $2,289 (~$1,750 USD) in 2015 before he got the solar array and Powerwall. 80% is to be expected with a solar installation, but you can stretch that with an efficient use of a home battery pack. That’s what he did since a year later, the household saw a 92% saving of $2110. They only paid $178.71 (~$137 USD) out-of-pocket for electricity throughout the entire year in 2016.”

https://electrek.co/2017/02/21/tesla-powerwall-one-year-ownership/

2)          The Zuckerberg Manifesto: Facebook will save the world

I wonder what it is about billionaires that makes them thing they have anything relevant to say. Zuckerberg is in the business of selling your privacy and doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about you, democracy, or the world in general. If anything it has proved to be the best thing ever for the far right and disinformation. It won’t save the world but it sure can screw it up.

“Zuckerberg used a more than 5,700-word treatise published on his Facebook account Thursday as an apparent attempt at restating the company’s mission. The company will still connect people, as its old mission spelled out, but it also must help get us to a global community. In his post, he spelled out a five-part mission for the company: building communities that are supportive, safe, informed, civically engaged and inclusive. … “Our greatest opportunities are now global — like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science,” he wrote. “Our greatest challenges also need global responses — like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics.””

https://www.cnet.com/news/zuckerberg-new-mission-facebook-ai-news-feed-controls-trump/

3)          Dish Network CEO: Streaming Video Is Starting To Replace Traditional Pay TV

Of course, this is a guy talking his book as Dish is rolling out streaming. Mind you I completely agree with him: the cable business is going to be disrupted by streaming, which creates a lot of opportunity.

“The so-called over the top (OTT) services are “becoming a direct replacement for cable and satellite,” he said in a call to discuss his company’s Q4 performance. And programmers who want to keep the traditional pay TV bundle — long the industry’s cash cow — need to adapt. “If they continue to raise prices, [and] continue to have 16 to 18 minutes of advertising per hour … then that deceleration will increase,” Ergen says. The OTT world “is more consumer-friendly.” In response to a question, he said Viacom CEO Bob Bakish is “wise” to focus on six main networks. Others who continue to invest in lots of small channels are “going to get eaten up” as distributors craft smaller bundles.”

http://deadline.com/2017/02/dish-network-ceo-charlie-ergen-ott-video-direct-replacement-pay-tv-1201940134/

4)          Google Report: 99.95 Percent Of DMCA Takedown Notices Are Bot-Generated Bullshit Buckshot

In theory you can be penalized for making false DMCA takedown notices but in practice the victim has to have the resources to fight back so in principle there is no real downside. Due to the sheer number of takedown requests Google has to use automation to deal with them and that means you not only have to fight a false takedown you need to get through to Google, which is nearly impossible. I doubt the law will change – the big money lobbying behind media and music more than offsets the injustice.

“Now, because Google is Google, the company doesn’t generally have a great deal of sympathy hoisted upon it by the public, never mind by copyright protectionists. But, come on, this is simply nuts. When the number of claims coming through the system that don’t even pertain to listed results by Google can be logically rounded up to 100%, that’s putting a burden on a company for no valid reason whatsoever. Even if you hate Google, or distrust it, it should be plain as day that it’s unfair for it to have to wade through all this muck just to appease the entertainment industries. And, it’s important to note that this isn’t all of the notices received, but just those coming through the Trusted Copyright Removal system — meaning that these are organizations that supposedly are supposed to have at least some credibility not to be submitting totally bogus notices. But, apparently, they don’t actually give a damn. The problem, as you may have already guessed, is that most of these claims are being generated through automated systems designed to shotgun-blast DMCA notices with reckless abandon.”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170223/06160336772/google-report-995-percent-dmca-takedown-notices-are-bot-generated-bullshit-buckshot.shtml

5)          The 5G Frontier: Millimeter Wireless

Unfortunately the article is very brief but it does make the point that the use of millimeter bands changes things a lot. We are about to enter an era of spectrum surplus after 100 years of spectrum shortage.

“But in many ways, millimeter-wave wireless truly is a frontier. Today the millimeter band is largely uninhabited and inhospitable, as signals using these wavelengths run up against difficult propagation problems. Even when signals travel through free space, attenuation increases with frequency, so usable path lengths for millimeter waves are short, roughly 100 to 200 meters. Such distances could be accommodated with the smaller cell sizes envisioned in 5G, but there are numerous other impediments. Buildings and the objects in and around them, including people, block the signal. Rain and foliage further attenuate millimeter waves, and diffraction—which can bend longer wavelengths around occluding objects—is far less effective. Even surfaces that might be conveniently nicely reflective at longer wavelengths appear rougher to millimeter waves, and so diffuse the signal.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/wireless/the-5g-frontier-millimeter-wireless

6)          DeepCoder builds programs using code it finds lying around

Yeah, well, actually, I doubt truly great programmers do a lot of cutting and pasting. A lot of the drones do, which is probably the major reason a lot of open source code is absolute garbage: spaghetti is easy to figure out than most of that stuff so I find myself writing stuff from scratch so at least I know how it works. Replacing drones with AI makes perfect sense.

“Like all great programmers I get most of my code from StackOverflow questions. Can’t figure out how to add authentication to Flask? Easy. Want to shut down sendmail? Boom. Now, thanks to all the code on the Internet, a robot can be as smart as a $180,000 coder. The system, called DeepCoder, basically searches a corpus of code to build a project that works to spec. It’s been used to complete programming competitions and could be pointed at a larger set of data to build more complex products.”

https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/23/deepcoder-builds-programs-using-code-it-finds-lying-around/

7)          Tech breakthroughs take a backseat in upcoming Apple iPhone launch

Apple stock is hitting new highs even as growth slows to a crawl. Wall Street is desperate to justify bullishness so they have conjured a theory out of whole cloth: disinterest in replacing iPhones is actually an opportunity due to “pent up demand”. This is the same sort of idiocy people were saying as the PC market got into trouble. Let’s imagine this hypothesis is correct: what happens after this wondrous upgrade cycle happens? We wait for the next “pent up demand”?

“When Apple Inc (AAPL.O) launches its much-anticipated 10th anniversary iPhone this fall, it will offer an unwitting lesson in how much the smartphone industry it pioneered has matured. The new iPhone is expected to include new features such as high-resolution displays, wireless charging and 3-D sensors. Rather than representing major breakthroughs, however, most of the innovations have been available in competing phones for several years. Apple’s relatively slow adoption of new features both reflects and reinforces the fact smartphone customers are holding onto their phones longer. Timothy Arcuri, an analyst at Cowen & Co, believes upwards of 40 percent of iPhones on the market are more than two years old, a historical high. That is a big reason why investors have driven Apple shares to an all-time high. There is pent-up demand for a new iPhone, even if it does not offer breakthrough technologies.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-iphone-idUSKBN1620FP

8)          Disney develops room with ‘ubiquitous wireless’ charging

This story got lots of coverage, but I’m assuming most of the commenters didn’t read it. Seriously, there is no magic to making a massive air core transformer and sitting inside it. Suffice it to say, you’ll want to leave all your bank cards outside or they’ll be erased.

“All you have to do is be in the room and your device will start charging automatically. And depending on where you are in the room, delivery efficiency can be as high as 95 percent, researchers said. There is one potential issue: you have to not mind being in a room constructed mostly of aluminum, that includes the walls, ceiling and floor. There’s a copper pole in the middle of the room, and 15 discrete high quality factor capacitors that separate the magnetic field from the electric field.”

https://www.cnet.com/news/disney-builds-prototype-room-with-ubiquitous-wireless-charging/

9)          Most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’

These stories are actually exciting and very positive news. The “publish or perish” mandate has corrupted science to the point where what matters is how much you publish, not whether it is true. There is no credit for replicating a study – and huge downside for you professionally if you announce you can’t replicate a result. The “quality” of science has become how often it is cited, not whether it is actually correct. That means the majority of “scientific facts” are grounded on popularity, not whether they are true. The sooned this goes back to how it should be the better.

“After meticulous research involving painstaking attention to detail over several years (the project was launched in 2011), the team was able to confirm only two of the original studies’ findings. Two more proved inconclusive and in the fifth, the team completely failed to replicate the result. “It’s worrying because replication is supposed to be a hallmark of scientific integrity,” says Dr Errington. Concern over the reliability of the results published in scientific literature has been growing for some time. According to a survey published in the journal Nature last summer, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39054778

10)      When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes

One an example of the problem of junk science is reflected in medical practice. There are loads of medical treatments and procedures which are based on debunked research, if at all. Unfortunately, doctors are prone to do them anyway because they either don’t know, or disagree with the science – even though they are not in a position to make that judgement. Plus, there can be profit in a procedure (especially in the US) and the ever present possibility of a medical malpractice suit if a procedure isn’t done. All in I prefer younger specialists: they tend to pay attention to the state of the art.

“For all the truly wondrous developments of modern medicine — imaging technologies that enable precision surgery, routine organ transplants, care that transforms premature infants into perfectly healthy kids, and remarkable chemotherapy treatments, to name a few — it is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous. Sometimes doctors simply haven’t kept up with the science. Other times doctors know the state of play perfectly well but continue to deliver these treatments because it’s profitable — or even because they’re popular and patients demand them. Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.”

https://www.propublica.org/article/when-evidence-says-no-but-doctors-say-yes

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 17 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 17 2017

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

 

 

1)          Google Fiber 2.0 targets the city where it will stage its comeback, as AT&T Fiber prepares to go nuclear

Wireless broadband has been largely confined to rural applications but that s in the process of changing. As costs come down and performance goes it is becoming a cost effective alternative to the “last hundred meters” problem of deploying urban broadband. A large cost of hooking a customer up has been getting a cable from the backbone to the consumer. This generally entails digging up lawns or even streets. Wireless “last 100 meters” is very cheap and quick to deploy and it should open up many markets to competition. Eventually even the backbone will be wireless as 5G technology is developed. Operation on unlicensed bands will make it even cheaper.

“While these three metros look like the beachheads where the company will relaunch its gigabit broadband service, Louisville in particular looks like the place where Google Fiber will prototype its next generation architecture, using a mix of fiber optics for the internet backbone and fixed wireless for the last mile to connect customers. This has the potential to supercharge deployments by bypassing the hardest, slowest, and most expensive part of the process–digging ditches and climbing poles to connect cables to every single residence.”

http://www.zdnet.com/article/google-fiber-2-0-targets-the-city-where-it-will-stage-its-comeback-as-at-t-fiber-prepares-to-go/

2)          What is a WISP?

This provides a bit more information regarding wireless broadband (as distinct from mobile broadband). My ISP operates a network which uses LTE technology on non-mobile bands to deliver 20 MBPS, unlimited, for about $40 per month. Even in the country tower costs are minimal and installation of customer access points takes a few hours at most. The radio equipment itself is software based so the quality of service can (and has) improved over time. It is a matter of time (maybe a year or two) that the quality of service exceeds that of urban broadband an therefore  becomes much more competitive in those markets due to the low installation costs.

“WISP stands for wireless internet service provider, and sometimes gets referred to as “fixed wireless.” This is an alternative to a wired internet hookup, with the internet being delivered wirelessly. While traditionally used in more rural areas, where a wired connection is not available, there is a trend to use WISP technology as a competitor to cable and fiber offerings.”

http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/What-is-a-WISP-138933

3)          Hackers Have Stolen Millions Of Dollars In Bitcoin — Using Only Phone Numbers

This is actually a form of identity theft and the bitcoin angle is just a hook for people who think bitcoin matters. It sort of does because it is a bit like somebody breaking in and stealing a gold nugget in that it becomes untraceable and irrecoverable. After all it isn’t even clear that “stealing” bitcoin is, per se, illegal. Of course that only matters if you are dumb enough to consider bitcoin a store of value – identity theft by migrating a phone number can be used to empty your bank account as well.

“In a larger wave of bitcoin scams that have hit everyone from everyday people to hospitals, Kenna’s experience is only one of a spate of recent hackings of high-profile cryptocurrency industry players such as venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, C-level executives and others who have had their phone numbers hijacked, some of whom have also suffered financial losses, several of whom have been threatened or ransomed, and one of whom was put in physical danger. Their experience is part of a larger trend. In January 2013, the Federal Trade Commission received 1,038 reports of these incidents, representing 3.2% of all identity theft reports to the FTC that month. By January 2016, 2,658 such incidents were filed — 6.3% of all such reports that month. There have been incidents involving all four of the major carriers.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2016/12/20/hackers-have-stolen-millions-of-dollars-in-bitcoin-using-only-phone-numbers/#6a12200022db

4)          The travel-only Gmail account: A practical proposal for digital privacy at the US border

There has been an increasing number of stories about people – both citizens and foreigners – crossing into the US and having their mobile devices “scanned” for, presumably, politically dangerous content. Some have even been denied entry for having “prayer apps” installed (you can guess these were not Christian prayer apps). Whatever you might think about think from a national security perspective, anybody with any sensitive information such as passwords, otherwise secured corporate information, etc., might consider getting a cheap “burner” phone for travel rather than crossing with their personal device.

“xkcd’s well-circulated wrench scenario, pictured above, is demonstrated hauntingly well by this week’s story of Sidd Bikkannavar, a US-born NASA engineer who was coerced into breaching the security of his government-issued phone in order to enter the United States. US Customs and Border Patrol detained Bikkannavar, who like me has Global Entry, upon entering and demanded he unlock his cell phone for searching. About 30 minutes later, he got his phone back and was free to go. He’s still unaware what took place during that time. What follows is my plan, and the thinking behind it, for avoiding such an invasion myself. (TL/DR: Wipe your phone before getting on the plane.)”

https://medium.com/@kenkinder/the-travel-only-gmail-account-a-practical-proposal-for-digital-privacy-at-the-us-border-cd74d7e00ecb#.fmsggnue2

5)          99.6% of new smartphones run iOS or Android; RIP Windows and Blackberry

This is not altogether surprising: Microsoft Mobile couldn’t figure out email (seriously – email) for the longest time and Blackberry was late to understanding the ramifications of the web. In technology you are either a leader or dying and iOS and Android are the leaders. Microsoft will do just fine but Blackberry will essentially evaporate, though its ultimate fate is probably to be acquired. Why anybody owns the stock is beyond me, but then again hard disk manufacturers’ stock prices have gone up as their revenues have declined. They are doomed as well but investors don’t seem to care.

“Remember those crazy days in 2011 and 12 when we thought that the mobile market might become a three-horse race between Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile, with Blackberry bringing up the rear? Well, I have bad if unsurprising news: by the end of last year, 99.6 percent of all new smartphones ran either Android or iOS—a return to the status quo that Ars first wrote about way back in 2009. According to the latest figures from Gartner, both Android and iOS expanded their share of the market in 2016, while sales of Windows and Blackberry continued their free fall to the base of the cliff. Gartner, a research company that derives its figures from a range of sources, says that just 1.1 million Windows smartphones were sold in Q4 2016, down from 4.4 million in Q4 2015. Similarly, Blackberry device sales fell from 906,000 to 208,000.”

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/02/all-new-smartphones-run-ios-android/

6)          The Snapchat IPO Just Got a Lot Cheaper

The fantastic HBO series “Silicon Valley” has a narrative that for start-ups their stock is their product. No company has perfected that nonsense than Uber, but Snapchat has to come close. This is a company whose losses exceed its revenues and there is no reason whatsoever to believe it will earn a penny. It is one of dozens of messaging apps, and the reason there are so many messaging apps is simply that they are trivial to make. Many mobile users have multiple messaging apps and are extremely fickle. As to why the stock is the product? Well, the private equity investors have poured billions into this house of cards and the IPO means they’d rather you own the stock than them. Nobody would play the game if they couldn’t find a greater fool.

“Snap now hopes to price its stock at $14 to $16 per share, valuing the company at about $22 billion at the high end, but at $19 billion on the low end. That’s as much as 24% less than the $25 billion valuation for which Snap was reportedly aiming, which was also the Snapchat company’s private-market valuation as of its latest funding round. And that means that Snap’s future shareholders won’t be taking quite as much risk by buying into the maker of the disappearing message app, which lost $515 million at its bottom line last year. At a valuation of $19 billion, Snap stock would trade at 47 times sales, not quite as sky high as the price-to-sales ratio of 62 that we previously computed.”

http://fortune.com/2017/02/16/snapchat-ipo-snap-stock-price/

7)          Toshiba facing bankruptcy, total disintegration thanks to bad bets on nuclear power

Well, that didn’t take long: you play stupid games you win stupid prizes. Time was the Japanese government and other trading organizations would make sure that, one way or another, Toshiba would survive. I am not so sure that is the case nowadays. Remarkably, the stock is only at the levels of a years ago so presumably there is still hope. Efforts to sell off a small part of their world class semiconductor operation may or may not be successful, but it is doubtful it’ll solve the problem.

“Current expectations are that Toshiba will have no choice but to file for bankruptcy, sell a significant amount of assets, and attempt to survive that way. Given the fallout of these events, you might be wondering why Toshiba doesn’t just sell its nuclear business — but according to The New York Times, it’s had no luck finding a buyer. Last month, the firm announced it would spin off its microchip business, with an estimated value of $13 billion to $17 billion if Toshiba sold its entire stake. That would pay off the company’s immediate debts, but would leave it holding the bag on an incredibly expensive, underwhelming nuclear business with no prospects for near-term improvement.”

https://www.extremetech.com/computing/244441-toshiba-facing-bankruptcy-total-disintegration-thanks-bad-bets-nuclear-power

8)          Valve ‘comfortable’ if virtual reality headsets fail

About a years ago industry analysts like IDC were falling all over themselves trying to come up with ever more optimistic forecasts for the VR business. One report suggested it would be “bigger than the PC industry” which is a little hard to grasp: lots of people have a PC at work and one at home and it is a bit of a stretch to imagine employers are going to let employees sit at their desk and “work” in VR. I think it is rather telling that firm numbers are not available – if the business was that big vendors would be falling all over themselves disclosing sales figures.

“”We’re optimistic,” he told Polygon. “We think VR is going great. It’s going in a way that’s consistent with our expectations.” He added: “We’re also pretty comfortable with the idea that it will turn out to be a complete failure.” Gauging the success or failure of VR has proved hard because neither Valve nor rival headset maker Oculus have released sales figures. Leaked figures late last year suggested 140,000 Vive headsets had been sold. Sony has said only that orders for its PlayStation-based VR headset have been “massive”. It has also been difficult to obtain information about users of phone-based headsets from Samsung and Google. Last year, analyst firm IDC said it expected consumers to spend about $2.6bn in 2016 buying 9.6 million headsets.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-38992294

9)          Ethicists advise caution in applying CRISPR gene editing to humans

Genetic modification of humans is a pretty dangerous thing. This is not just because of the risks to society but the risk to the subjects as well: what if selecting your baby’s eye color causes them to develop brain cancer when they turn 25? The good thing about CRISPR is that it is very cheap and very effective. The bad thing about CRISPR is that it is very cheap and very effective and anybody with basic lab expertise can use it. Governments ignore international treaties and do all kinds of things (like run doping programs for athletes and, no, it isn’t just the Russians who do it. CRISPR is not yet reliable enough to be used as part of an in vitro fertilization protocol but you can bet it’ll be used on humans soon enough.

“The latest iteration of this ongoing CRISPR debate is a report published Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. The report, a series of guidelines written by 22 experts from multiple countries and a variety of academic specialties, presents a kind of flashing red light for CRISPR. The report did not recommend an absolute prohibition of gene editing on the human “germline” if such interventions can be proved safe. This would involve genetic changes to eggs, sperm or embryos that would persist in an adult and could be inherited by future generations.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/02/14/ethicists-advise-caution-in-applying-crispr-gene-editing-to-humans/?utm_term=.3cfd1eabddbe

 

10)      First Gene Drive in Mammals Could Aid Vast New Zealand Eradication Plan

You know what scares me more than genetically engineering humans? People who believe that engineering a species to its extirpation (i.e. local extinction) is a good idea are very dangerous indeed. I can sympathize with people who want to cure malaria or rid an island of an invasive species but, unless crops, which tend to need careful maintenance to survive, a wild GMO can spread to places you don’t expect. After all – if mice got on an island they can get off an island as well. The two species in particular (mosquitos and mice) happen to be at the base of the terrestrial food chain. The environmental havoc which could be unleashed by a genetic “bomb” would be hard to overstate.

“Scientists working in coordination with a U.S. conservation group say they’ve established an evolution-warping technology called a “gene drive” in mammals for the first time and could use it to stamp out invasive rodents ravaging seabirds on islands. … A man-made gene drive was first demonstrated in fruit flies only in 2015. Within a few months the concept had been extended to mosquitoes, and already the technology is viewed as promising enough to have landed $75 million from Bill Gates, whose foundation is betting that extinguishing mosquitoes could eradicate malaria from Africa.

 

So it was only a matter of time—less than two years, it turned out—before the technique was adapted to mammals.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603533/first-gene-drive-in-mammals-could-aid-vast-new-zealand-eradication-plan/?set=603621

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 10 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 10 2017

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

1)          Facebook is closing hundreds of its Oculus VR pop-ups in Best Buys after some stores went days without a single demo

Well this is rather odd. VR is (was?) supposed to be bigger than the PC industry. I can understand why people don’t go into a Best Buy but you’d think they would at least be interested in a demonstration of a novel display technology. All in it looks like the VR bubble is deflating.

“Multiple “Oculus Ambassador” workers BI spoke with said that, at most, they would sell a few Oculus headsets per week during the holiday season, and that foot traffic to their pop-ups decreased drastically after Christmas. “There’d be some days where I wouldn’t give a demo at all because people didn’t want to,” said one worker at a Best Buy in Texas who asked to remain anonymous. Another worker from California said that Oculus software bugs would often render his demo headsets unusable.”

http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-closing-200-oculus-best-buy-pop-ups-poor-store-performance-2017-2

2)          Big blues: IBM’s remote-worker crackdown is company-wide, including its engineers

IBM is a once great company which employs lots of smart people. Unfortunately, their management is only adept at financial engineering and broad based incompetence. This is a company which has missed every technology since the PC despite spending tens of billions on acquisitions. IBM is far from the top of the list in terms of choices for engineering talent and moves like these will move it down closer to the bottom so soon I probably won’t have to point out they have lots of smart people working for them. Just to show you how wonky the stock market is presently, IBM’s revenues have been declining for years but the stock is the highest it has been since Q4 2014.

“IBM has pitched all this change to employees as a way to improve the working environment and office culture. In a video message to her troops, seen by The Register, chief marketing officer Michelle Peluso said “there is something about a team being more powerful, more impactful, more creative, and frankly hopefully having more fun, when they are shoulder to shoulder.” El Reg, however, has heard that within the IBM rank and file, the move is being seen as more of an excuse to cut a portion of the workforce, and in particular one specific portion. Multiple sources believe that the move will disproportionately affect older workers who have already put down roots with a home and family in a specific area. Thus, this decision to move people across the country might be by design to cut loose older and more expensive workers. By requiring that workers move to hub cities such as San Francisco, Austin, or New York, IBM could both rid itself of older workers and make the jobs more appealing to younger, lower-salaried professionals.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/02/09/ibm_workfromhome_cull_companywide/

3)          A Record 14 Weeks (Did Apple Really Have a Record Quarter?)

This is an interesting read on Apple’s results: the logic is sound in that a materially longer quarter should result in materially greater revenues, although the relationship is not necessarily direct, especially in the holiday season so one more week may have more or less than an 8% impact on revenues. That said the stock is near an all-time high despite negative revenue growth in a mature market. It is beyond me how a portfolio manager, let alone a retail investor, could justify owning any stock, let alone a tech stock, in that situation.

“Apple stated that Q1 FY2017 was an all-time record for quarterly revenue. The media dutifully and mostly uncritically spread this “great” news for Apple. But the headlines were fake news. Technically the claim is true, the revenue was an all-time record. True but misleading. Although Apple didn’t lie as such, you might say there was a sin of omission, and a definite spin of the facts. Most Apple fiscal quarters are 13 weeks long. Once in a while, however, they need a 14 week quarter. You might call it a “leap quarter”. … What a difference a week makes! Rather than record revenue, we have another down quarter for Apple. The lone bright spot was services; everything else was a year/year decrease. A 14 week quarter is 8% longer than a 13 week quarter. You can’t even begin to compare them usefully without making adjustments.”

http://lapcatsoftware.com/articles/14weeks.html

4)          This Technology Could Finally Make Brain Implants Practical

Long story short this technology uses magnetic fields instead of direct electrical stimulation to fire neural pathways. Direct electrical stimulation is probably easier to do precisely but it has the problem of potentially creating scar tissue, etc..

“Next month, tests will begin in monkeys of a new implant for piping data into the brain that is designed to avoid that problem. The project is intended to lead to devices that can restore vision to blind people long-term. Researchers at Harvard Medical School will use a new kind of implant that will go beneath the skull but can rest on the surface of an animal’s brain, instead of penetrating inside the organ. An array of microscopic coils inside the hair-like device can generate powerful, highly targeted magnetic fields to induce electrical activity at particular locations in the brain tissue underneath. The implant will also be tested when placed inside brain tissue.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603602/this-technology-could-finally-make-brain-implants-practical/?set=603611

5)          NASA’s new electronics can survive the heat of Venus

Unfortunately they don’t really say what the electronics do or how they perform, just that they are “semiconductors”. Of course, even if these devices only perform as well as a primitive (circa 1980) device you could make a pretty powerful system – provided the power requirements are reasonable. This technology make have uses in hostile environments here on Earth long before they reach Venus.

“The previous landers enclosed the electronics in thermal- and pressure-resistant vessels, which also add significant weight to the payloads. NASA’s team, led by electronics engineer Phil Neudeck, developed silicone carbide semiconductor integrated circuits. When placed in the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig, which simulates Venus conditions, the circuits survived for 521 hours. This, NASA says, is 100 times longer than any previous Venus mission electronics.”

https://www.cnet.com/news/nasas-new-electronics-can-survive-the-heat-of-venus/

6)          Could 5G TV Spur Fixed 5G Deployments?

5G wireless could revolutionize broadband in North America, which has 3rd world infrastructure despite paying the highest prices in the world. Most of the impact of 5G will be in fiber/wireline replacement not mobile devices, especially early on since the customer equipment will be big and power hungry, plus fixed applications don’t have to deal with many of the same problems as mobile applications. Another great thing with 5G is that it will lead to an era of spectrum surplus, in contrast with the spectrum shortage which has existed since the days of Marconi.

“Delivering pay-TV over fixed 5G would be “very much in line with carriers’ rural broadband plans,” said Rudd. Carriers are accustomed to delivering multi-play services including broadband and video in order to maximize revenues generated from network investment – and being able to deliver pay-TV as well as broadband over a 5G fixed wireless link could help carriers such as AT&T and Verizon build a business case for deploying 5G in a fixed configuration in areas where the carrier cannot justify an investment in fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP). Rudd noted that British Telecom is looking at 5G fixed wireless as a means of meeting broadband deployment goals and that 5G TV may be part of those plans. She also noted that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam has talked about using fixed 5G to deliver “services similar to FiOS,” hinting that 5G TV also is part of that carriers’ plans.”

http://www.telecompetitor.com/could-5g-tv-spur-fixed-5g-deployments/

7)          Traditional TV’s surprising staying power

This is a good and objective write up on the status and current trends in “TV”. Of particular note is the chart about 2/3rds of the way down which shows demographic shift in TV viewership. The viewing habits of 18 year olds today are an important indicator of what 28 year olds will do in 10 years.

“Pay and broadcast television, still the foundation of video entertainment at home in much of the world, is being eroded from two sides. At one end, people are watching videos free on large social platforms like Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), YouTube and Snapchat. Each of these platforms now claims billions of views a day. Free videos are supported by advertising, which will begin to eat into the TV advertising market, currently worth $185bn.”

http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21716459-peak-tv-its-way-slowly-traditional-tvs-surprising-staying-power

8)          Forward, a $149 per month medical startup, aims to be the Apple Store of doctor’s offices

The great thing with Silicon Valley start-ups is that it doesn’t matter whether they make money or not, just whether they can sell the stock. Presumably $149/month sounds like an attractive price especially given the astounding cost of US medical care, but it’s hard to see how they’d make money if they actually have to do any procedures. Mind you they highlight snake oil like naturopathy and vitamins so I wouldn’t darken their door if I was bleeding out.

“One might be tempted to compare Forward to something like One Medical, a startup with a series of well-branded medical offices popular in the Bay Area. But Forward goes far and above with a state-of-the-art 3,500 square foot office equipped with six exam rooms, the latest medical instruments and an onsite lab for testing within minutes. Forward also offers a proprietary A.I. to help its doctors quickly source through medical information and compare it to your health data. Beyond the lobby lay the exam rooms, complete with ergonomic chairs, a futuristic display screen and a myriad of medical instruments dipping into Star Trek Enterprise territory.”

https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/17/anappleaday/

9)          Phone Bot to Target Windows Support Scammers

This is a fun story about a guy who has created a bot designed to waste the times of scammers who phone people up and try any number of schemes to separate them from their money. I can’t help but wonder if this might be a generalized solution to scams like “duct cleaning”, IRS/Revenue Canada scams, “charity” money raising scams, and all manner of fraudulent schemes using call centers.

“The man who developed a bot that frustrates and annoys robocallers is planning to take on the infamous Windows support scam callers head-on. Roger Anderson last year debuted his Jolly Roger bot, a system that intercepts robocalls and puts the caller into a never-ending loop of pre-recorded phrases designed to waste their time. Anderson built the system as a way to protect his own landlines from annoying telemarketers and it worked so well that he later expanded it into a service for both consumers and businesses. Users can send telemarketing calls to the Jolly Roger bot and listen in while it chats inanely with the caller.”

https://www.onthewire.io/phone-bot-to-target-windows-support-scammers/

10)      Get Uber’s self-driving trucks off the road: watchdog

I don’t know the motives of this non-profit but I agree with the sentiment. Self-driving vehicles can be dangerous even though the technology, once perfected, will be much safer than human drivers. That said the companies experimenting with self-driving vehicles are not doing charity – they are in it for the money (or in Uber’s case to boost its share price). Dangerous experimental vehicles need to be carefully regulated and if they aren’t people will die.

“A southern California non-profit that has long raised concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles has asked the DMV to look more closely at the operations of Otto, a self-driving truck company that Uber bought last year for $670 million. Otto made headlines in October when it completed a 120-mile beer run with a large semi-tractor in Colorado. A few months ago, Uber announced it would begin testing self-driving Volvo SUVs in this hilly city, but a day later that process was halted after the DMV said Uber had not applied for the proper permits. Uber moved its fleet to Arizona.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/talkingtech/2017/02/08/watchdog-group-wants-ubers-self-driving-trucks-off-road/97671732/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 3 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 3 2017

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

 

ps: it was a slow week with most tech news dominated by politics and the usual noise about Elon Musk and Apple.

 

1)          5G, Gigabit LTE, Millimeter Wave: What Will be Real, When

There is a good chance 5G wireless technologies will disrupt the broadband industry, especially in North America where it is dominated by a small number of protected players. The regulatory infrastructure for wireless is different and 5G wireless in particular can exploit a vast amount of unlicensed spectrum.

“I haven’t been this excited since DSL and cable modems came out around 2000. Here’s what looks solid, per discussions with engineers around the world. We are entering a Wireless Age of Abundance. It will take some time to reach most people. The engineers are ready to deliver a ten to twenty-five times increase in capacity, using 4G, Massive MIMO, and half a dozen other emerging technologies. Weak competition with weak regulation will hold back progress in some places. You will not get a gigabit on your mobile phone until at least 2020 and more likely 2022-2024. I’ve seen a demonstration of 20 gigabits, shared, but that’s not out of the labs yet. The technology, 5G high frequency millimeter waves, is enormously complicated and it will take years to develop the standard and design the equipment for phones.”

http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/5G-Gigabit-LTE-Millimeter-Wave-What-Will-be-Real-When-138807

2)          3D TV is finally, blessedly, mercifully, dead — will VR follow suit?

I can take or leave 3D TV but I can’t wait to see the end of 3D movies. I continue to be very skeptical that VR will “sweep the world” but I think it will be pretty successful in gaming and certain applications such as training. I don’t think content would have helped 3DTV significantly since the experience is pretty poor and unnatural. In contrast VR can provide an immersive experience.

“The story of 3D’s rise and fall is a cautionary tale for the VR industry as well. I love VR and would like to see it shape the future of gaming, but many of the issues that doomed 3D TV and 3D content could also kneecap VR adoption. Like 3D, it requires expensive, personal peripherals. Like 3D, games need to be designed explicitly for VR in order to showcase the technology to best effectiveness. Like 3D, VR can cause nausea and headaches. Like 3D, working in VR has an entirely new set of best practices, some of which aren’t intuitive to people who spent their careers working on conventional design.”

https://www.extremetech.com/electronics/243280-3d-tv-finally-blessedly-mercifully-dead-will-vr-follow-suit

3)          Fast-Forwarding to the Future of Broadcasting

As the article indicates ATSC 3.0 is IP based, which should make it easier to work on a variety of “not-traditionally TV” type devices such as mobiles. Although adoption is probably inevitable it probably won’t be as fast as ATSC (the original HDTV standard) because issues like radio spectrum allocation won’t be concurrently at play.

“This standard, which some call ATSC 3.0 and others call “Next Gen TV,” is the first one to marry the advantages of broadcasting and the Internet.  Specifically, this new broadcast standard is based on Internet Protocol, or IP, and will permit seamless integration with other IP-based services and platforms. Next Gen TV matters because it will let broadcasters offer much better services in a variety of ways.  Picture quality will improve with 4K transmissions. Accurate sound localization and customizable sound mixes will produce an immersive audio experience. Broadcasters will be able to provide advanced emergency alerts with more information, more tailored to a viewer’s particular location. Enhanced personalization and interactivity will enable better audience measurement, which in turn will make for higher-quality advertising–ads relevant to you and that you actually might want to see. Perhaps most significantly, consumers will easily be able to watch over-the-air programming on mobile devices.”

http://www.multichannel.com/blog/mcn-guest-blog/fast-forwarding-future-broadcasting/410630

4)          Trump Immigration Ban Can Worsen U.S. Doctor Shortage, Hurt Hospitals

This is my one political item of the week. The US president has adopted a travel ban from certain countries. As is usual, there are many apologists for this move. However, the US has benefitted enormously over the decades by attracting many of the best the brightest from around the world into its professions and graduate programs. If I had the wrong skin tone or religion I would wonder if the US is now a good choice: will I be the subject of a future ban, ethnic registry (as promised) or harassment by emboldened xenophobes? These sorts of moves can have a multiplier effect and can be long term. Time will tell.

“More than 8,400 doctors working in the U.S. are from two countries listed in the executive order—Syria and Iran—according to data from the American Medical Association. Even more foreign-born physicians—close to 50,000—are from India, which is not included in the travel ban. But the fears created by last week’s executive order will ripple across Asia and the Middle East, reaching places like India, says Atul Grover, a physician and executive vice president of the AAMC. “The majority of our foreign doctors come from India and Pakistan, and while they’re not on the list I think when the environment feels this uncertain and this inhospitable, they’ll go to Canada and the U.K.,” he says.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-immigration-ban-can-worsen-u-s-doctor-shortage-hurt-hospitals/

5)          Hotel ransomed by hackers as guests locked out of rooms

This article is just another example of the weaknesses of Internet of Things security. These hackers have made it a business of hacking their hotel and the hotel or at least its electronic lock supplier, seem powerless to stop it. It is unclear to me why the locks have to be connected to the Internet regardless. As the hotel has realized one good solution is to revert to mechanical locks.

“One of Europe’s top hotels has admitted they had to pay thousands in Bitcoin ransom to cybercriminals who managed to hack their electronic key system, locking hundreds of guests out of their rooms until the money was paid. Furious hotel managers at the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, a luxurious 4-star hotel with a beautiful lakeside setting on the Alpine Turracher Hoehe Pass in Austria, said they decided to go public with what happened to warn others of the dangers of cybercrime. … Brandstaetter said: “We are planning at the next room refurbishment for old-fashioned door locks with real keys. Just like 111 years ago at the time of our great-grandfathers.””

http://www.thelocal.at/20170128/hotel-ransomed-by-hackers-as-guests-locked-in-rooms

6)          Chinese Factory Replaces 90% Of Human Workers With Robots, Sees 250% Production Increase

Articles about automation create a lot of excitement nowadays and this one had a major profile. Unfortunately, neither the article nor most of the associated commentary both to mention that there is nothing unusual or remarkable about this example: companies invest in capital in increase labor productivity. That is pretty much what the industrial revolution was about. Anybody who has set inside a factory knows this. Get over it.

“One of China’s first unmanned factories in the city of Dongguan recently replaced 590 of its workers with robots and the results were astounding. While the factory used to be run by 650 employees, only 60 of those people still work at the factory and their primary job is to make sure the machines are running properly, not working on manufacturing. The Changying Precision Technology Company focuses on the production of mobile phones and uses automated production lines. The robotic arms produce certain parts of the mobile phones at each station and the factory even makes use of autonomous transport trucks.”

http://monetarywatch.com/2017/01/chinese-factory-replaces-90-human-workers-robots-sees-250-production-increase/?doing_wp_cron=1486131709.4486410617828369140625

7)          From Garbage Trucks To Buses, It’s Time To Start Talking About Big Electric Vehicles

Replacing diesel heavy vehicles with electric battery ones sounds pretty appealing until you do the math. It turns out that the battery for, say, a tractor trailer, would be about the same size and weight as the freight capacity of an existing tractor trailer and that doesn’t even to take into account the staggering costs of the battery. If you want to reduce heavy truck emissions set aside highway lanes for their exclusive use: it is better for the environment than “High Occupancy Vehicle” (HOV) lanes even if it isn’t politically astute.

“First, to achieve disproportionate impact, you must target a disproportionate contributor to the problem. While medium and heavy trucks account for only 4% of America’s +250 million vehicles, they represent 26% of American fuel use and 29% of vehicle CO2 emissions. If you are looking for a way to address more problem (foreign oil dependence, climate change, air quality, you name it) with less solution, big vehicles are it. If you want to have outsized impact, don’t convince a Prius driver to go electric, electrify a garbage truck.”

https://cleantechnica.com/2017/02/02/garbage-trucks-buses-time-start-talking-big-electric-vehicles/

8)          Wireless Abundance is here: What Gig LTE, Massive MIMO, mmWave, and more can mean

This is a follow on to item 1: emerging wireless technologies not only deliver vastly greater throughout they allow for the exploitation of a vast swath of spectrum, including a large slice of unlicensed spectrum. There is good reason to believe “spectrum shortages” will soon become a thing of the past.

“Telcos report costs going down 40% to 60%. That allows T-Mobile U.S. & Sprint to offer “unlimited” with only a few gotchas. Competition and regulation will determine who is actually served. Technology on the market can deliver 10X to 25X at reasonable cost; Weak competition or weak regulation could hold this back. Speeds over 50 megabits with a cap high enough to watch 100 hours/month of HD TV can be delivered in most of the developed world. The engineers can deliver. Marconi Fellow Paulraj tells me Massive MIMO will bring many of the same benefits to most rural areas, including in emerging nations. Extreme rural areas – the last 1-3% – may not be as fortunate.”

http://5gwnews.com/index.php/90-r/670-wireless-abundance-is-here-what-gig-lte-massive-mimo-mmwave-and-more-can-mean

9)          The hi-tech war on science fraud

Science is a truly wonderful thing but the reality is the overwhelming majority of published peer reviewed research is wrong. That’s not so much because of intentional fraud but sloppy work, bad methodology, , etc.. It turns out that very few papers are ever read by a statistician and as a result papers are rife with wrong statistics. You’d think a real scientist would be pleased with the prospect of a tool which points out those errors but, no, the precious snowflake is worried about “scrutiny and suspicion” and “harassment”. Mind you if I was in a field where almost none of the research could be replicated I’d be nervous as well.

“Statcheck’s method was relatively simple, more like the mathematical equivalent of a spellchecker than a thoughtful review, but some scientists saw it as a new form of scrutiny and suspicion, portending a future in which the objective authority of peer review would be undermined by unaccountable and uncredentialed critics. Susan Fiske, the former head of the Association for Psychological Science, wrote an op-ed accusing “self-appointed data police” of pioneering a new “form of harassment”. The German Psychological Society issued a statement condemning the unauthorised use of Statcheck. The intensity of the reaction suggested that many were afraid that the program was not just attributing mere statistical errors, but some impropriety, to the scientists.”

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/01/high-tech-war-on-science

10)      Can Eagle-Eyed Artificial Intelligence Help Prevent Children From Going Blind?

There is great potential for AI in medical applications but I don’t believe for a minute that it will ever replace doctors. Most likely AI will provide a sort of objective second look at test results, in particular, those associated with medical imaging.

“”Missed or mistaken diagnoses, as well as inappropriate treatment decisions, are common among rare-disease patients and are contrary to the goals of precision medicine, especially in developing countries with large populations, such as China,” write a group of Chinese researchers in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering. These researchers aim to fix that preventable treatment gap by using eagle-eyed AI. The researchers outline an artificial intelligence program that can diagnose congenital cataracts more accurately than human doctors, and report that the data it collects could help spur new research on how to treat this rare disease.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/eagle-eyed-ai-doctor-could-nip-cataracts-bud-180961993/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 29 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 29 2017

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          AT&T Plans DirecTV Now Over 5G in Austin

5G wireless may or may not be good for smartphones but it is a potential replacement for wired broadband services. More to the point, it opens up a vast amount of spectrum, much or which is unlicensed. This may allow the emergence of a competitive broadband industry in the US and Canada – provided the lobbyists and corrupt regulators don’t sabotage it.

“AT&T is gearing up for a trial to deliver DirecTV Now in Austin via 5G wireless broadband in the first half of 2017. The cell network giant said it also planned to test “additional next-generation entertainment services of fixed 5G connections.” AT&T said the trial will comprise multiple sites and devices and focus on how fixed wireless millimeter wave technology handles heavy video traffic.”

http://www.tvtechnology.com/news/0002/att-plans-directv-now-over-5g-in-austin/280199

2)          Google doubles down on Chromebooks in education with two new devices

Chromebooks are similar in performance to tablets but they have a keyboard and target low-cost. This makes them quite suitable for the education market where the lower cost and better durability means kids are less likely to destroy them. Chromebooks have been quite successful and seem to be taking an increasing share fo the market. Note that the criticism of Chromebook apps applies equally well to iPads, which are extremely expensive fragile devices once touted as ideal for education.

“Google is announcing two new Chromebooks specifically designed for the education market. Chrome OS has been strong in education for some time, outperforming the Mac, iPads, and Windows so much that by some estimates it represents half the market. The company is putting together a slew of Chrome OS-related announcements to try to solidify that lead, but at the center are two Chromebooks that are designed for students. The first is the Acer Chromebook Spin 11, essentially a convertible variant of the ruggedized Chromebook 11 N7. Internally, the specs are very little changed and unlikely to appeal to consumers — an 11.6-inch touchscreen, Intel Celeron processor, and a couple of storage and RAM options.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/24/14366192/google-chromebooks-acer-spin-11-asus-flip-c213-chrome-os-education

3)          Trump signs executive order stripping non-citizens of privacy rights

The tech world was dominated by US politics this week. Don’t get me started. This move was interesting because of the excitement it caused and the sheer stupidity of the move. The Orwellian USA PARTIOT and its successors eviscerated privacy in the US. The Snowden revelations showed the national security state went even further. The EU might have been pleased to delude itself into believing it had protected its citizens privacy though and agreement with the US but it utter nonsense: if you keep data on a server connected to the Internet that data is likely compromised. If you keep data on the cloud that data is compromised.

“With a stroke of his pen, the president just potentially invalidated a transcontinental data flow agreement between the US and EU which took years to negotiate. The US-EU Data Shield agreement is an authorization framework which enables companies to transfer the personal data of Europeans to the US while ensuring that the companies operate within compliance of Europe’s more stringent privacy laws. It effectively ensured that a European’s personal data — that is, any personal data originating from the EU, not just that of EU citizens — would be protected to the standards that the EU demands whether the data is sitting on a server in Paris, France or Paris, Texas.”

https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/26/trump-signs-executive-order-stripping-non-citizens-of-privacy-ri/?sr_source=Facebook

4)          Dropbox Kept Files Around for Years Due to ‘Delete’ Bug

Part two of why you have to be very careful when using cloud services: Dropbox offers a commodity cloud storage application and, it turns out, it can’t even get that right. There was no particular reason to believe that Dropbox ever real disposed of files properly but now we find out they didn’t and seemed to know about it for years. Remember that you aren’t storing stuff on Dropbox, you are sharing it with them. Be very, very, careful. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Dropbox engineers have fixed what appears to be a very ancient bug that during the past two weeks has resurfaced previously deleted folders for several Dropbox users. According to multiple support threads started in the last three weeks and merged into one issue here, users had complained about old folders that they deleted years ago, magically reappearing on their devices.”

https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/software/dropbox-kept-files-around-for-years-due-to-delete-bug/

5)          Explaining the upside and downside of D-Wave’s new quantum computer

The other day I was thing “funny I haven’t heard anything about D-Wave in a while” and then this past week there was a flood of stories about their latest “quantum” computer. (On a side note, transistors are also “quantum” devices). In any event, despite the hype and hysteria, it appears this machine is 1,000 faster than normal computers at simulating annealing. Whoop dee freaking do: a general purpose computer would never be as fast as a tree simulating a tree either. The net benefit to this obscure advantage is only 30x – at least until somebody tweaks the simulation algorithms again. The performance delta between a quantum computer and a regular computer is the same order as that between a nuclear explosion and a chemical explosion – it is not subtle.

“In a pair of papers, D-Wave researchers have compared the new architecture to various simulated annealers, including annealers that incorporate quantum properties and make use of GPUs for additional speed up. The take-home message that D-Wave wants you to hear is that this thing is a processing beast, around 1,000 times faster than a normal computer. This is just a comparison of the annealing time, though. The total time taken is only a factor of 30 better, and it’s dominated by the time it takes to initialize the problem and read out the solution. These are also just demonstration problems that are not directly applicable in real-world applications.”

https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/01/explaining-the-upside-and-downside-of-d-waves-new-quantum-computer/

6)          A lack of alternatives to Qualcomm is hurting the ecosystem

Interesting nuggets regarding Qualcomm’s business model but I think it overstates the company’s position. Patents, especially high tech patents, are a rapidly depreciating asset and Qualcomm walled off 2G and 3G before the standards bodies realized how big a market wireless would be. There is a good chance they will have limited success in 5G. As for SoCs, Qualcomm uses the freely licensable ARM architecture. While they may remain at the cutting edge, mobile innovation is slowing and other vendors will eventually supply “good enough” parts.

“Qualcomm owns patents for a number of hugely important mobile technologies. The company earns money from every phone sale, even those that don’t use a Qualcomm chip, as 3G CDMA and 4G LTE data technologies are based primarily on the company’s IP. If your phone has a CDMA or LTE modem, even one designed and manufactured by another company, Qualcomm takes a cut. The company does not have the same dominant IP portfolio for 4G as it does for CDMA, but it’s still the major earner for the company. For financial year 2016, Qualcomm generated a pre-tax profit of $6.5 billion from 3G and 4G royalties, compared with $1.8 billion from MSM chip sales in the same year. In other words, 85  percent of the company’s earnings before tax are created by wireless technology royalties.”

http://www.androidauthority.com/a-lack-of-qualcomm-alternatives-is-hurting-the-ecosystem-744879/

7)          HP expands laptop battery recall after reports of overheating and property damage

Lithium ion battery fires are very impressive and hard to extinguish. There are suggestions a pilot’s iPhone/iPad may have taken down an Airbus recently, with the loss of 66 lives (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/_TP_/article/did-pilot-s-phone-batteries-cause-egyptair-crash-trr663ghv?ni-statuscode=acsaz-307). What I find interesting is that consumer product recalls for smartphones and laptop batteries get a lot of coverage but fires in electric vehicles usually do not. Suffice it to say that if you have a bad accident in an EV there is a very high probability it will catch fire. You will not get out alive. Car fires are relatively rare in gasoline powered cars because of a variety of safety systems which would not work with a battery.

“Overheating and exploding batteries seem to be a problem as of late. Samsung recently captured headlines for its own debacle with the Galaxy Note7, and now HP is continuing its recall of laptop batteries that could pose a risk to consumers. The latest recall affects 101,000 units, and a previous recall in June 2016 affected another 41,000 batteries. The affected laptops were said to include a lithium-ion battery containing Panasonic cells that malfunctioned, leading to “overheating, melting and charring and causing about $1,000 in property damage,” the US Consumer Product Safety (US CPSC) report said.”

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/hp-expands-laptop-battery-recall-after-reports-of-overheating-and-property-damage/

8)          IBM promises Trump-friendly domestic jobs, but is firing U.S. workers: report

I was wandering through a store recently and noted all the “new lower price” stickers. It occurred to me that they never put a sticker saying “new higher price” nor do they tell you the lower price applies to a smaller bottle. In any event, IBM is a senescent company which has missed every significant tech trend since the PC. They are slowly fading away despite spending billions per year on value destroying acquisitions. Who needs real engineering when financial engineering is more fun?

“As companies fall all over themselves to hype creation of U.S. jobs, IBM is catching flak for promising thousands of new ones while firing folks right and left, a new report said. Company CEO Ginni Rometty said in a December USA Today op-ed that her firm would hire 25,000 people for U.S. positions in the next four years, 6,000 of them this year. “She didn’t mention that International Business Machines Corp. was also firing workers and sending many of the jobs overseas,” said a Jan. 23 report from Bloomberg. Big Blue wrapped up its third round of 2016 firings — or “resource actions” in IBM HR parlance — in late November, and job losses for the year likely totaled in the thousands, current and former employees told Bloomberg.”

http://www.siliconbeat.com/2017/01/23/ibm-promises-trump-friendly-u-s-jobs-but-is-firing-american-workers-report/

9)          Apple Investigating Issue With AirPods Randomly Disconnecting During Calls

I’m sure nobody expected Apple to invent Bluetooth headsets and get it right the first try, right? Actually there are some reports of these same models of iPhone disconnecting from other Bluetooth headsets (i.e. the ones on the market before Apple invented them) so the issue might actually be with their operating system.

“Apple is investigating multiple reports from iPhone owners of AirPods randomly disconnecting and reconnecting during calls, MacRumors has learned. A MacRumors forum thread and a long thread on Apple’s Support Communities website have been generated by AirPods users who are regularly experiencing Bluetooth connection dropouts during phone calls, despite the fact that the wireless earphones almost never lose their connection when used to listen to music or anything else.”

http://www.macrumors.com/2017/01/23/apple-airpods-disconnect-during-calls/

10)      New findings highlight promise of chimeric organisms for science and medicine

This work is pretty impressive but it has been mostly miss-reported. The idea is to grow the organs of one species inside another species using stem cells and genetic modification. There has been the usual clucking about “ethical issues” but I suspect the people waiting for transplants might feel a bit differently about the issue: this does not create some sort of sentient man-bear-pig but potentially human compatible organs ready for transplant.

“In a tour de force paper published in the January 26, 2017, issue of the journal Cell, scientists at the Salk Institute report breakthroughs on multiple fronts in the race to integrate stem cells from one species into the early-stage development of another. Combining cutting-edge gene-editing and stem-cell technologies, the scientists were able to grow a rat pancreas, heart and eyes in a developing mouse, providing proof-of-concept that functional organs from one species can be grown in another. They were also able to generate human cells and tissues in early-stage pig and cattle embryos, marking the first step toward the generation of transplantable human organs using large animals whose organ size, physiology and anatomy are similar to humans’.”

https://phys.org/news/2017-01-highlight-chimeric-science-medicine.html

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 20 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 20 2017

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          Language: Finding a voice

Recent advances in AI/Deep Learning have led to a fair amount of hysterics due to those concerned “AI is gonna take our jerbs” and a dystopian future where humanity is enslaved by Terminator style robots. Alas, it is just an algorithm which is useful for solving certain classes of problems (see the next item). Whether or not an intelligent machine might be developed in the future an array of number does not represent a meaningful threat to humanity.

“Creative and truly conversational computers able to handle the unexpected are still far off. Artificial-intelligence (AI) researchers can only laugh when asked about the prospect of an intelligent HAL, Terminator or Rosie (the sassy robot housekeeper in “The Jetsons”). Yet although language technologies are nowhere near ready to replace human beings, except in a few highly routine tasks, they are at last about to become good enough to be taken seriously. They can help people spend more time doing interesting things that only humans can do. After six decades of work, much of it with disappointing outcomes, the past few years have produced results much closer to what early pioneers had hoped for.”

http://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2017-05-01/language#section-2?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/findingavoice

2)          How an algorithm behind Deep Learning works

The video in this item provides a summary of how AI/Deep Learning works. As I noted in item one, it is just an algorithm, and, moreover, is not even remotely similar to the way a brain works. Unless you are doing arithmetic your brain does not do floating point math and does not create a multidimensional convolved array. Brains operate continuously (well – for most of us) rather than in discrete intervals like computers. Brains also merge computational function with storage. I could go on.

“There are many algorithms behind Deep Learning (see this comparison of deep learning frameworks for details), but one common algorithm used by many frameworks is Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs). The mathematics behind that algorithm are complex, but Brandon Rohrer explains the process in plain language, and shows how AIs trained with CNNs can appear to mimic human processes like vision.”

http://blog.revolutionanalytics.com/2016/09/how-the-algorithm-behind-deep-learning-works.html

3)          Seagate to Shut Down One of Its Largest HDD Assembly Plants

The Hard Disk Drive industry continues to evaporate as the technology is increasingly displaced by Solid State Drives which are better than HDDs in all ways except price. Mind you, tape storage is less than $10/TB right now so it is even cheaper than HDD. What is strange is that HDD stock prices have bounced back rather nicely over the past 6 months or so, demonstrating that financial engineering outweighs actual engineering – at least on Wall Street and at least for a little while. Anybody remember Kodak and AGFA?

“As a part of its cost-cutting efforts, Seagate has decided to shut down its HDD manufacturing plant in Suzhou, China. The factory is one of the company’s largest production assets and its closure will significantly reduce the company’s HDD output. Seagate intends to lay off ~2200 employees, but it is unclear what it intends to do with the facility, which it owns.”

http://www.anandtech.com/show/11037/seagate-to-shut-down-one-of-its-largest-hdd-assembly-plants

4)          Qualcomm sued by US regulators for anti-competitive practices

A rather timely move by the FTV now that almost all the competitors have been destroyed and most of the profit of the smartphone industry has been banked. No doubt Qualcomm is quivering in their boots at the prospect of paying a small fine as a cost of doing business.

“The FTC says that Qualcomm maintained a “no license, no chips” policy, whereby it would refuse to sell modems to companies that wouldn’t agree to its onerous licensing terms. Companies didn’t have much choice but agree to its terms, the FTC alleges, because Qualcomm is one of the only companies that can supply large quantities of high-end modems. If companies didn’t agree, they wouldn’t be able to make enough phones. Qualcomm’s licensing terms required that smartphone manufacturers pay a higher-than-usual fee for phones built with a competitor’s modem, according to the commission. In effect, Qualcomm is said to have made competitors’ modems more expensive than they should be. The FTC calls this a “tax” on competitors’ products, which it says “excludes these competitors and harms competition.””

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/17/14302932/qualcomm-ftc-lawsuit-anticompetitive-practices-modems

5)          Theranos closed its last remaining blood-testing lab after it reportedly failed an inspection

Recently there was an article that Theranos had laid off 41% of its staff which led me to wonder what, exactly, the other 59% were to do. I guess they haven’t entirely run through investor money and now have a new project to promote. It is rather doubtful investors will be there for another round of funding though.

“Theranos closed its last remaining blood-testing facility after the lab reportedly failed a regulatory inspection, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The company, once valued at $9 billion, is shifting its focus to a portable ‘lab on chip’ virus-detection box after its blood-testing business, once labeled revolutionary, came under repeated fire for unreliable results, questionable methodology and inadequately trained staff.”

https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/17/theranos-last-lab-inspection-test-fail/

6)          Google Maps will soon get you where you need to go, then help you park

This sounds like a pretty useful feature, but they don’t really give you an idea as to how accurate the information is, which is pretty important if you think about it. I’d love it Google Maps could be trained to not put you on toll roads without permission: around the Toronto area it will invariably route you to the 407 highway for a $30 toll if it can figure out a way to do so.

“Nothing ruins a day out like driving to an unfamiliar part of town, finally finding that hole-in-the-wall restaurant you’ve been hearing so much about… and realizing there are no open parking spots even close to the joint. It’s not the end of the world, but it certainly puts a damper on the fun. With an upcoming feature rolled out with the latest beta version of Google Maps, however, your turn-by-turn directions will soon be able to guide you to the best places to park around your destination.”

http://mashable.com/2017/01/18/google-maps-finds-parking-spots/#yLkcj59mCaqK

7)          Autodesk Moves EAGLE to Subscription Only Pricing

Autodesk makes a range of low end to mid-range CAD tools. Like most software companies bereft facing a mature market and bereft of the capacity to do actual engineering they transitioned to a “Software as a Service” model which allows them to greatly increase the cost of using their software while lowering their R&D and Sales and Marketing expense. They recently bought Eagle, a low end PC CAD tool with a strong following among the maker community. As this article points out, a free, open source, alternative to Eagle is KiCad EDA, which if not only being free but in some ways more capable than Eagle. Let the outrage ensue.

“Lets break down the costs. Before Autodesk purchased EAGLE from CadSoft, a Standard license would run you $69, paid once. The next level up was Premium, at $820, paid once. The new pricing tiers from Autodesk are a bit different. Standard will cost $15/month or $100/year, and gives similar functionality to the old Premium level, but with only 2 signal layers. If you need more layers, or more than 160 cm^2 of board space, you’ll need the new Premium level, at $65/month or $500/year.”

http://hackaday.com/2017/01/19/autodesk-moves-eagle-to-subscription-only-pricing/

8)          Juicero squeezes the price of its internet-connected juicer from $700 to $400

This is an an update on one of the silliest things associated with the Internet of Things: an expensive juicer which squeezes a similarly expensive bag of plant matter to make juice. The company somehow convinced investors to pour at least $70M into it at a $270M valuation, which just shows that the one thing dumber than an IoT juicer is IoT juicer investors. Apparently, a $700 price tag is not the optimal price for an IoT juicer and they have come to the conclusion cheaper things sell more. Mind you it is still $7 a pack for a single serving …

“Juicero, the company behind the luxury juicer that only works with proprietary fruit and vegetable pouches and requires a connection to the internet, is significantly dropping the price of its juicer today, bringing it from $699 down to $399. The price cut seems to speak to just how difficult it is to sell a nearly $700 juicer that can’t juice fruits and vegetables bought at the store. Juicero says that when it cut prices for Black Friday — dropping the juicer to $350 for a few days — its customer based “doubled,” which suggests that its install base probably wasn’t that high to begin with.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/17/14296530/juicero-juicer-price-cut-after-ceo-shakeup

9)          ISIS has converted commercial drones into bombers

The interesting thing about ISIS using commercial drones as bombers is that there are few restrictions on the sales of commercial drones, other than the need for a credit card. Not only that but it is possible to buy certain high explosives in North America with little in the way of restrictions. It is only a matter of time before some bright spark domestic terrorist puts two and two together.

“It’s well-known that ISIS uses weaponized drones, but new images out of Mosul confirm that the group is now using the quadcopters as bombers as well as single-mission vehicles. Kurdish media network Rudaw reported last week that the explosive-dropping drones have killed civilians and damaged equipment. So far, ISIS has not used these drones to deliver chemical weapons, Rudaw said.”

https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/16/isis-drones-weaponized-bombers-iraq-mosul/

10)      The Tiny Robots Revolutionizing Eye Surgery

The article doesn’t provide much in the way of detail as to how the machine works but the www.preceyes.nl/ website has a helpful video even though it takes forever to load. Robot assisted surgery is more like drone surgery in that the surgeon is in complete control. The difference is that the device scales the hand movements and removes tremors, etc., which allows for extremely precise operations. I am a little confused by the surgeon’s comment that so many machines would be needed: the same could have been said about MRI machines as well.

“Last September, Robert MacLaren, an ophthalmologist and professor at Oxford University, plunged a tiny robotic arm into William Beaver’s eye. A membrane had recently contracted on the 70-year-old priest’s retina, pinching it into an uneven shape and causing him to see the world as if reflected in a hall of mirrors. Using a joystick and a camera feed, MacLaren guided the arm of the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device, or R2D2 for short, through a tiny incision in the eye, before lifting the wrinkled membrane, no more than a hundredth of a millimeter thick, from the retina, and reversing Beaver’s vision problems. It was the first operation performed inside the human eye using a robot.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603289/the-tiny-robots-revolutionizing-eye-surgery/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 13 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 13 2017

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

 

 

1)          Google’s new compression tool uses 75% less bandwidth without sacrificing image quality

Actually, as near as I can determine, it does sacrifice image quality because what they are showing you is something which looks better quality even though it is of lower quality. It would be interesting to see how that trickery works since there is a wide range of capabilities in terms of spotting poor quality images. It isn’t eyesight as much as how your brain works. Still it might be useful for mobile and other small picture size applications.

“Claiming to use up to 75 percent less bandwidth, RAISR analyzes both low and high-quality versions of the same image. Once analyzed, it learns what makes the larger version superior and simulates the differences on the smaller version. In essence, it’s using machine learning to create an Instagram-like filter to trick your eye into believing the lower-quality image is on par with its full-sized variant.”

http://thenextweb.com/google/2017/01/12/googles-new-compression-tool-uses-75-less-bandwidth-without-sacrificing-image-quality/

2)          Apple’s AirPods are junk, and it’s all Siri’s fault

Apple showed great “courage” but removing wired headsets from the iPhone 7 – or so they’d like you to believe. I always considered headsets to be disposables so I go the cheap route. Nevertheless if I had to choose a Bluetooth headset I sure as heck would not choose one which requires a broadband connection to function correctly.

“What reviewers seem to have ignored, and even discounted, is that beyond the fancy pairing process, the AirPods are actually pretty junk to use in the real world. There are annoying oversights that don’t make any sense, and Apple has leant on Siri incredibly hard to make the AirPods useful that they end up being more frustrating to use than the free ones with a cable. Within just a few minutes I was annoyed that something as simple as changing the volume required me to speak out loud — and I’m all for voice assistants, but Siri is an utter s***-show.”

https://medium.com/charged-tech/apples-airpods-are-junk-and-it-s-all-siri-s-fault-f86aa0e35b38#.zbs48n6qo

3)          A potentially fatal blow against patent trolls

Not all patent litigation is due to patent trolls but they sure cause a great deal of aggravation to tech companies. A major problem is the lack of “loser pays” in the US but even that could be subverted by a corporate shell. This judge shows some imagination: make the lawyers jointly and severally responsible for legal fees. That changes the risk/reward dynamic significantly for the lawyers and, presumably, they’ll refuse to take a case which has no merit as is the case for the majority of true troll cases.

“For years, patent trolls have been the best evidence that pure evil exists. And like most evil entities, they are almost impossible to stop. Even a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that was highly critical of patent trolls has done little to slow their slimy, reptilian-like existence. But a federal judge on Dec. 19 crafted a novel tactic to curb patent trolls when she slapped a half-million-dollar bill on the lawyers and said that they were personally responsible for paying it, not their client. This could truly be a game-changer.”

http://www.computerworld.com/article/3153924/technology-law-regulation/a-potentially-fatal-blow-against-patent-trolls.html

4)          Hands On With The First Open Source Microcontroller

An open source microcontroller might stir things up a fair bit. Not so much because of its openness but the potential to develop extended versions of the architecture on a royalty-free basis. It still won’t be cheap because the setup costs of an IC are in the millions but this might open the door to start-up companies, especially those in China. It remains to be seen whether the necessary ecosystem, which is an important component of success of any new CPU, develops for the device.

“The RISC-V ISA is completely unlike any other computer architecture. Nearly every other chip you’ll find out there, from the 8051s in embedded controllers, 6502s found in millions of toys, to AVR, PIC, and whatever Intel is working on are closed-source designs. You cannot study these chips, you cannot manufacture these chips, and if you want to use one of these chips, your list of suppliers is dependent on who has a licensing agreement with who. We’ve seen a lot of RISC-V stuff in recent months, from OnChip’s Open-V, and now the HiFive 1 from SiFive. The folks at SiFive offered to give me a look at the HiFive 1, so here it is, the first hands-on with the first Open Hardware microcontroller.”

http://hackaday.com/2017/01/05/hands-on-with-the-first-open-source-microcontroller/

5)          Disney set to release a $99 streaming box that plays games

Netflix has established itself as a leader in the streaming space but most of its content is licensed. I always figured content owners would get into the act eventually. It is not clear to me that a large enough market exists for the Disney Kids TV box to make money, especially if they only offer Disney content but time will tell.

“This week at CES 2017, Disney made the pretty big announcement that they would be releasing a streaming box that would feature some Android games, TV/movie content and play music. The Disney Kids TV box will be the first streaming box that will put kid-friendly content front and center with preloaded Disney media.”

http://www.insidethemagic.net/2017/01/disney-set-to-release-a-99-streaming-box-that-plays-games/

6)          Cord-cutter alert: YouTube’s Unplugged could be right around the corner

You Tube has one of the largest video streaming networks around and you’d be surprised the sort of content they carry: I recently watched “Alice’s Restaurant” for the first time, for free, over YouTube. It makes a lot of sense for them to use that Content Delivery Network (CDN) to deliver other services such as this alternative to cable. The key question will be one of competitiveness: unlike cable, which is generally overpriced, streaming video consumers a lot of data and that can get expensive.

“Over much of the past year we’ve heard through the whispers of “people familiar with the matter” that YouTube has started talks or has reached final or tentative agreements with Disney, Viacom and 21st Century Fox to deliver their content through a skinny bundle of live TV channels via Google’s immensely popular video platform. According to financial news site TheStreet, which also cited anonymous sources, the service could go live before the end of February, which jibes with other reports that Unplugged would be unveiled early this year. Last month CBS Corp. head Les Moonves went on the record saying his company remains in talks with YouTube to work out a deal. Time Warner and Comcast’s NBCUniversal have also been rumored to be in negotiations in recent months.”

http://www.salon.com/2017/01/11/cord-cutter-alert-youtubes-unplugged-could-be-right-around-the-corner/

7)          Why you shouldn’t trust Geek Squad ever again

Frankly I wouldn’t listen to Best Buy employees regarding AA batteries and I can’t imagine turning a computer over to them. That said, as a general rule, if you are doing something illegal with computer it probably isn’t very smart to let anybody look at it. Just saying …

“And it seems the geeks are making a few extra bucks. The Orange County Weekly reports that the company’s repair technicians routinely search devices brought in for repair for files that could earn them $500 reward as FBI informants. That, ladies and gentlemen, is about as blatant a case of unconstitutional search and seizure as it gets.”

http://www.networkworld.com/article/3156029/computers/why-you-shouldnt-trust-geek-squad-ever-again.html

8)          Self-driving trucks will soon haul cargo between shipping terminals in Singapore

This is a technology called caravanning and I carried an item about Daimler doing it some time ago. In any event moving around cargo in a shipping terminal is an excellent early application for semi-autonomous trucks since it is a controlled environment and speeds are typically low. The same is true of mining which is increasing using robotic vehicle technology for moving stuff around. Of course, autonomously driving a truck on a crowded highway is orders of magnitude more difficult.

“Singapore’s shipping ports are already among the busiest and most efficient in the world. Now the city-state is exploring a new way to make them run even better: convoys of driverless trucks operating between terminals. The idea is that a lead truck will be driven by a human, with the follower vehicles being automated. This week, authorities signed agreements (pdf) with two truck makers with strong track records in self-driving technology— Sweden’s Scania and Japan’s Toyota Tsusho—to work on the project. In the first phase, lasting about a year and starting this month, each company will design, develop, and test a truck platooning system in their respective countries. In the second, one company will be chosen for local trials on a 10 km (6.2 miles) stretch of Singapore’s West Coast Highway, hauling cargo between the Brani and Pasir Panjang terminals.”

https://qz.com/882726/self-driving-trucks-will-soon-haul-cargo-between-shipping-terminals-in-singapore/

9)          Move Over Mobile Phone: The Next Ad Frontier is the Windshield

It seems to me that entrepreneurs think slapping advertising on absolutely anything is a good idea. If they are right we can look forward to a dystopian future where our lives are dominated by noise rather than information. Come to think about it that pretty much describes the media today. In any event, setting aside the question of distracted driving, I would never buy a car with this feature because it has this feature. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“The advent of connected cars is creating a new sales battleground, and using a vehicle’s windshield may be the next way to pitch more products and services to consumers. McKinsey & Co. estimates that mobile and data-driven services in autos will generate $1.5 trillion by 2030. At least part of that will be spent projecting information to drivers and passengers right before their eyes. “When you think of a person driving and what your needs are when you’re on a typical trip, it’s food, it’s fuel and it’s rest stops,” said John Butler, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. “Owning the inside of the car is critical, it’s really where the money is made. The real value is locked up in the ad opportunity.””

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-06/smart-windshields-seen-as-the-new-ad-billboards-inside-a-car

10)      Scientists Predict Star Collision Visible To The Naked Eye In 2022

This should be fun to watch: they are predicting a particular star will go nova as the two binary stars finally merge. It should be easy to locate and bright enough to see with the naked eye as well.

“Calvin College professor Larry Molnar and his team said in a statement that two stars are orbiting each other now and “share a common atmosphere, like two peanuts sharing a single shell.” They predict those two stars, jointly called KIC 9832227, will eventually “merge and explode … at which time the star will increase its brightness ten thousand fold, becoming one of the brighter stars in the heavens for a time.” That extra-bright star is called a red nova. They recently presented their research at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, Texas.”

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/09/509010493/scientists-predict-star-collision-visible-to-the-naked-eye-in-2022

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 6 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 6 2017

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

1)          Japanese company replaces office workers with artificial intelligence

This is article 1 of 2 about robots gonna take our jerbs. It seems the insurance company in question pays people to vet about 32 claims a day and that IBM has sold them on running the claims through their deep learning system instead. People losing their jobs is nothing to laugh at and online coverage of this news characterized it as a “first wave” leading to massive AI related job losses, poverty, and no doubt cannibalism. Nevertheless this is simply another baby step along a path extending back to the industrial revolution. I recall a time where countless people were keypunch operators, when word processors were people, and when printing was mainly done on hot lead type. There is nothing unusual or significant about this announcement, except that IBM finally has a paying customer for its deep learning technology.

“A future in which human workers are replaced by machines is about to become a reality at an insurance firm in Japan, where more than 30 employees are being laid off and replaced with an artificial intelligence system that can calculate payouts to policyholders. Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance believes it will increase productivity by 30% and see a return on its investment in less than two years. The firm said it would save about 140m yen (£1m) a year after the 200m yen (£1.4m) AI system is installed this month. Maintaining it will cost about 15m yen (£100k) a year.”

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/05/japanese-company-replaces-office-workers-artificial-intelligence-ai-fukoku-mutual-life-insurance

2)          Amazon’s robot army grows by 50 percent

If deep learning wasn’t going to take you job, surely robots will. Coverage of this news also led to lots of commentary regarding massive job losses, etc.. Nevertheless pretty much any complex logistical chain (even the post office) has been using robotics and other technology for years otherwise they simply couldn’t get the job done. Amazon exists to employ people because it can buy robots which allow people to fill the orders. Eventually more of that work will be automated which will allow Amazon to expand and deliver even more stuff cheaper.

“Amazon.com hires a lot of people. But the expansion of its army of orange-wheeled robots is more than keeping pace. The world’s largest e-commerce retailer said it has 45,000 robots in some 20 fulfillment centers. That’s a bigger headcount than that of the armed forces of the Netherlands, a NATO member, according to World Bank data. It’s also a cool 50 percent increase from last year’s holiday season, when the company had some 30,000 robots working alongside 230,000 humans.”

http://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazons-robot-army-grows/

3)          AT&T to do real-life 5G trial with DirecTV Now in Austin

One hope for long suffering broadband customers is the development of 5G wireless. Although many of the names are the same, most ISPs have a regional business (though that may span a number of states) and often only offer service in the most profitable areas. Being wireless, 5G is federally regulated, meaning that state and local laws limiting competition won’t be in effect. Plus, there is a wide swath of unlicensed spectrum set aside for 5G. Finally, there total millimeter wave spectrum is orders of magnitude greater than all of the spectrum already allocated meaning at least for fixed broadband the idea of “spectrum shortage” will be obsolete.

“AT&T said Wednesday it will test a 5G wireless service to deliver its new DirecTV Now streaming TV service to select homes in Austin, Texas, in the first half of this year. The Dallas-based wireless and broadband company said the $35-a-month internet streaming service, which offers an alternative to traditional cable and satellite TV services, will use a fixed 5G wireless connection instead of AT&T’s 4G mobile network. The purpose of the trial is to see how AT&T’s next-generation wireless network could replace a home broadband connection delivered by a cable company. Specifically, AT&T said it wants to see how it handles heavy amounts of video traffic. As part of the trial, AT&T said it will also test additional “next-generation entertainment services.” The company didn’t specify what those services will be.”

https://www.cnet.com/news/att-to-test-5g-with-directv-in-austin/

4)          Hulu, Google’s 2017 Plans to Bundle Channels Looks a Lot Like Cable

Google’s entry into channel streaming could cause a fair bit of grief to the cable companies/Internet service providers. Mind you there is reason to believe the uncompetitive US internet services business will get even less competitive under a Trump presidency given the administration’s general obliviousness and apparent strong opposition to net neutrality. An end to net neutrality will allow US ISPs to essentially extort the content providers in order to carry content which would not only be bad for Google but Netflix as well.

“Ever since high-quality, streaming services emerged in 2010, it was clear that the business of television was in for radical change. Bundled channel services have an opportunity to be immensely profitable because—since they’re streamed over the internet—anyone in the country can buy them. Cable services, on the other hand, are geographically limited to the houses reached by their wires. For Hulu and Google, an especially attractive target is the 20 million so-called “cord-cutters” or “cord-nevers” that don’t pay for cable and watch television only via on-demand, internet-distributed services such as Netflix.”

http://www.newsweek.com/hulu-google-bundle-channels-looks-cable-537326

5)          Apple Will Reduce iPhone 7 Production By 10% in Early 2017 Due to ‘Sluggish’ Sales

A number of the articles I read about this news suggested “Apple does this every year” which is true if you mean this is the second year in a row. Large companies lay people a lot of money to forecast and plan production and production cutbacks of this magnitude can only be explained by sales being below expectations. That is not surprising since the iPhone 7 really has very little in terms of new features for iPhones and doesn’t really compare well to other flagship phones.

“Apple plans to reduce production of the iPhone line by 10 percent beginning in the first quarter of 2017, according to supplier data collected by Nikkei. Apple is said to have experienced a similar situation thanks to accumulated inventory of the iPhone 6s late in 2015, which also caused it to lower output of that smartphone in Q1 2016. The company attempted to prevent the same thing from happening again with the iPhone 7 by curbing production quantities on the 2016 smartphone, but even with that preemptive move Apple is again looking at a manufacturing downturn for its flagship iPhone line in the new year.”

http://www.macrumors.com/2016/12/30/apple-reduce-iphone-7-production/

6)          India needs $30 smartphone, says Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Investors are fixated with premium phones and potential sales into the developing world (in particular China and India). Unfortunately these things don’t mix: most of the rich people in those countries already have premium phones and the poor people can’t afford one. Not only that but poor people often lack electricity which means they prefer a honking big battery over a slim device. It is worth noting that there is bound to be “leakage” of cheap phones into the developed world, providing an option for consumers tired of overpaying for technology.

“Google CEO Sundar Pichai said today that Android OEMs are currently offering smartphones for $100 and $50, but for emerging markets such as that of India’s, they need smartphones that cost $30. “I think two big things, one is from our side — we are committed to making even cheaper smartphones. […] The right price point for smartphones in India is $30, and pursuing high quality smartphones at the price point will unlock it even more,” Pichai said in a televised interview with NDTV. “Hopefully, we can all push and make $30 smartphones happen,” Pichai said in a separate interview. India has the largest user base of Android users. Moreover, the country has over 260 million smartphone users with most phones sold costing under $150.”

http://mashable.com/2017/01/05/india-30-dollar-smartphone-google-sundar-pichai/#qgUwxM4.9mqV

7)          EXCLUSIVE: Kodak Ektachrome 100 is Coming Back in 35mm Format

I predicted the end of Kodak when the first digital cameras were coming out. That process was accelerated by management making a series of profoundly stupid business decisions but their fate was inevitable. In any event, as good as digital cameras are the fact is that some films can even be better and the “feel” of film is hard to match. Something tells me the film and – most importantly the processing – ain’t gonna be cheap.

“In a super shocking announcement being made today at CES 2017, Kodak is bringing back one of their iconic films: Kodak Ektachrome 100. The announcement goes hand in hand with the emulsion being available in both Super 8 and 35mm still formats. Back in 2012, Kodak discontinued the film citing sales that weren’t as strong as they needed. Last year, 2016, was the fourth anniversary of its discontinuance. Kodak Ektachrome was recommended as the replacement for Kodachrome, and for a short time was Kodak’s only available slide film. Then it disappeared, and Kodak had none available on the market. But in Q4 of 2017, we’re getting Kodak Ektachrome back.”

http://www.thephoblographer.com/2017/01/05/exclusive-kodak-ektachrome-100-is-coming-back-in-35mm-format/

8)          As thin as cardboard, LG’s ‘wallpaper’ OLED TV slaps on your wall like a poster

This video is interesting but it is worth noting that a lot is said about the sound quality and very little about the picture quality. OLED TVs are awesome and OLED is the future of display technology but the whole “thinness” aspect is pretty much overdone. As the video shows, the screens are somewhat flexible which will be important in the future. You might be able to buy this set in the near future but don’t expect it will be cheap – even though OLED has the potential for being extremely cheap in the future.

“The dream of hanging your TV on the wall like a poster is now a reality: LG officially introduced its W-Series OLED on Wednesday morning at CES 2017, and it’s every bit as cool as you might imagine. As the flagship of LG’s 2017 OLED TV lineup, the W-Series — previously referred to as “Wallpaper OLED” — exemplifies an OLED TV panel’s inherently thin and light form factor. At just 1/10 of an inch thick, the W-series’ panel is barely thicker than a piece of cardboard, and its bezel is nearly nonexistent, creating the effect of a picture that simply emanates from the wall.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/lg-w-series-wallpaper-oled-hands-on-ces-2017/

9)          Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake review: Is the desktop CPU dead?

The desktop CPU might not be dead but it sure does look like Intel is back to its old monopolistic ways. The company had entered a similar attitude about 10 years ago when AMD surprised everybody by coming out with some better parts. Unfortunately AMD is no longer in a position to lead in pretty much anything and Intel can revert to its slothful ways. I continue to believe they will eventually come out with a neural network accelerator to displace GPUs in deep learning applications but time will tell.

“The Intel Core i7-7700K is what happens when a chip company stops trying. The i7-7700K is the first desktop Intel chip in brave new post-“tick-tock” world—which means that instead of major improvements to architecture, process, and instructions per clock (IPC), we get slightly higher clock speeds and a way to decode DRM-laden 4K streaming video. Huzzah. For the average consumer building or buying a new performance-focused PC, a desktop chip based on 14nm Kaby Lake remains the chip of choice—a total lack of competition at this level makes sure of that. But for the enthusiast—where the latest and greatest should perform better than what came before—Kaby Lake desktop chips are a disappointment, a stopgap solution that does little more than give OEMs something new to stick on a label in a 2017 product stack.”

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/01/intel-core-i7-7700k-kaby-lake-review/

10)      Intel unveils its Optane hyperfast memory

I don’t know if Intel is doing itself any favors with its dance of the seven veils regarding Optane memory. It is all very well and good to know it is faster than flash memory and cheaper than DRAM but that spans orders of magnitude. Price and performance determine utility and applicability in the real world. Until those key data are released you can’t even speculate as to what demand will be.

“Other than detailing Optane module capacities and form factor, Intel released virtually no other details about the memory, including performance specifications, pricing or  exact availability dates. A spokesman for the company said additional detail, including performance specifications, would be released “soon.””

http://www.computerworld.com/article/3154051/data-storage/intel-unveils-its-optane-hyperfast-memory.html

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 30 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 30 2016

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

Happy New Year!

 

 

1)          Apple’s Search for Better iPhone Screens Leads to Japan’s Rice Fields

Rumors suggest the iPhone 8 will have an OLED display, which is a feature which has been readily available on a variety of Android devices for several years now. Alas, Apple’s volume is such that supply of anything becomes an issue and it can take a lot more than money to catch up with certain features. As this article suggests they should have started putting the production capacity in place a few years ago – like Android vendors did.

“That push has also put a spotlight on suppliers of previously obscure technologies, testing their capacity to satisfy demand that drives sales of more than 200 million iPhones each year. A couple of years ago, Apple sought to use strong sapphire glass for iPhones, only to abandon the effort when a manufacturer couldn’t deliver enough of acceptable quality and went bankrupt. The scratch-resistant material is now featured on the Apple Watch. .Now OLED is the big goal. The technology has been included on top-end smartphones for years, including almost all of Samsung Electronics Co.’s high-end phones.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-21/apple-s-search-for-better-iphone-screens-leads-to-japan-s-rice-fields

2)          Uber Freight Just Launched and Trucking Will Never Be the Same

In the excellent HBO series “Silicon Valley” a professional tech CEO informs the engineers that a tech company’s real product is its stock. That is most easy to see without Uber (though Tesla comes close). Since Uber (and Tesla) are prodigious destroyers of capital their continued existence requires a eternally increasing stock price because without that they won’t be able to raise the capital to keep the fires burning. This is why both firms trot out a never ending series of superficially exciting announcements. In any event, Uber’s core car service business is not inherently highly profitable but at least there was a brief window of opportunity due to a regulatory arbitrage. No such condition exists in the trucking industry. As for autonomous truck (they are coming) the likes of Daimler are going to dominate that space.

“Uber has launched a website for a service called Uber Freight. Little has been revealed about the company’s expansion from ride-hailing, but if the announcements it’s made over the last year are any indicator, chances are good that Uber Freight is meant to prepare the world for autonomous delivery trucks. Uber acquired a startup called Otto, which planned to bring the first self-driving trucks to market, in August. Since then the company has used its trucks to deliver 50,000 cans of beer and hundreds of Christmas trees in San Francisco. This new service won’t use those trucks, at least not at the beginning. Instead it will function much like Uber’s existing platform: Some people will sign up to drive items across the country, and others will join so they can send packages without having to sign a contract with established shipping companies. The service will likely bring “surge pricing” to trucking, too.”

https://www.inverse.com/article/25698-uber-freight-just-launched-change-trucking-otto

3)          Congressional Encryption Working Group says encryption backdoors are near unworkable

Encryption backdoors sure sound appealing provided a couple conditions are met: the “bad guys” aren’t smart and they lack the computing resources to exploit them. Alas, it turns out that the US does not have a monopoly on smart people an computing is a commodity, especially with cloud services. So, even if the NSA wasn’t riddled with double agents as it likely is, all backdoors do is give the bad guys easy access to trade and other secrets.

“Cryptography experts and information security professionals believe that it is exceedingly difficult and impractical, if not impossible, to devise and implement a system that gives law enforcement exceptional access to encrypted data without also compromising security against hackers, industrial spies, and other malicious actors. Further, requiring exceptional access to encrypted data would, by definition, prohibit some encryption design best practices, such as “forward secrecy,” from being implemented.”

http://betanews.com/2016/12/23/ewg-encryption-report/

4)          IBM on track to get more than 7,000 U.S. patents in 2016

I’ve worked for companies which, like IBM, have incentive programs to file patents. The effect is not a burst of creativity from a slew a crappy patent applications. Since patents are almost always granted provided the applicant has deep enough pockets to pay his patent attorney you can impute exactly nothing about the prospects for a company from the number of patents it has been awarded. That said, IBM is a tech company which has missed out on every major tech market since the PC primarily because it has senior management who are utterly clueless. It ain’t for nothing revenues have declined for the past several years despite billions spent on dozens of acquisitions.

“IBM wants to put the patent war in perspective. Big Blue said that it is poised to get the most U.S. patents of any tech company for the 24th year in a row. In 2015, IBM received more than 7,355 patents, down slightly from 7,534 in 2014. A spokesperson for IBM said the company is on track to receive well over 7,000 patents in 2016. In 2016, IBM is also hitting another interesting milestone, with more than 1,000 patents for artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. IBM has been at it for more than a century, and it is seeking patents in key strategic areas — such as AI and cognitive computing. In fact, one-third of IBM’s researchers are dedicated to cognitive computing.”

http://venturebeat.com/2016/12/23/ibm-on-track-to-get-more-than-7000-u-s-patents-in-2016/

5)          Watch a Tesla predict a car crash 2 vehicles ahead

As with any Tesla related story, this looks very promising and exciting – after all we gotta keep that stock price up! This item was repeated dozens of times over the past week. Presumably the folks so enthusiastic about advanced automotive safety features know absolutely nothing about them. Nissan/Infinity has offered the same capability, which it calls “Predictive Forward Collision Warning” on most of its models for at least a couple years (http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/TECHNOLOGY/OVERVIEW/predictive.html). It has even advertised it extensively.

“In the clip, first uploaded to Twitter by Hans Noordsij, a group of cars can be seen traveling down the A2 highway in the Netherlands. The Forward Collision Warning on the Tesla beeps, and the emergency braking system kicks in. A brief moment later, the vehicle in front of the Tesla rear ends and SUV, which then flips before quickly coming to a stop.”

http://mashable.com/2016/12/27/tesla-predicts-crash-ahead-video/#K.ud9ijgFOq9

6)          U.S. government begins asking foreign travelers about social media

Presumably the US security apparatus assume actual terrorists would provide links to their ISIS Twitter accounts. Realistically it is very unlikely they would so stupid. Most likely they are simply filling in the blanks and associating real people and their passports to the information gathering dragnet they already operate.

“The U.S. government quietly began requesting that select foreign visitors provide their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts upon arriving in the country, a move designed to spot potential terrorist threats that drew months of opposition from tech giants and privacy hawks alike. Since Tuesday, foreign travelers arriving in the United States on the visa waiver program have been presented with an “optional” request to “enter information associated with your online presence,” a government official confirmed Thursday. The prompt includes a drop-down menu that lists platforms including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, as well as a space for users to input their account names on those sites.”

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/foreign-travelers-social-media-232930

7)          Cord-Cutters Dropping Cable Force Networks to Make Hard Choices

Consumers are shifting from cable TV broadcast to streaming for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is demographics as fewer younger people even bother with a cable subscription. Rising prices and falling quality are no doubt other reasons. As broadband becomes more available I predict this will accelerate. As the article suggests this will have a profound impact on certain business while it creates opportunity for others.

“Next year, other programmers will be forced to contemplate whether to merge with competitors or distributors like AT&T, the largest U.S. pay-TV operator. Network owners are under growing pressure as they lose customers to online services like Netflix. While about 98 million homes still get pay TV, the industry lost around 1 million subscribers in 2016, and almost no channel was untouched. Even popular sports like the NFL — the glue holding the cable bundle together — lost viewers. Channel owners are betting new online TV services like DirecTV Now, Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV and an upcoming service from Hulu will stem the bleeding. Starting as low as $20 a month, they offer a low-cost alternative to the typical $85-a-month cable bill.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-29/cord-cutters-dropping-cable-force-networks-to-make-hard-choices

8)          Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots

This is an update to an article we had regarding Rio Tinto’s experimentation with autonomous truck in its Australian mining operations. I am pretty sure these are not fully autonomous but are more like remotely operated drones. This allows the operator to be far away from the mine and live in city or suburb rather than the Spartan accommodations of a mining camp which brings labor costs down a lot.

“Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto, says the fleet and other automation projects are already paying off. The company’s driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel, says Atkinson—a significant saving since haulage is by far a mine’s largest operational cost. “We’re going to continue as aggressively as possible down this path,” he says. Trucks that drive themselves can spend more time working because software doesn’t need to stop for shift changes or bathroom breaks. They are also more predictable in how they do things like pull up for loading. “All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up,” says Atkinson. They also improve safety, he says.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603170/mining-24-hours-a-day-with-robots/

9)          Automatic brakes stopped Berlin truck during Christmas market attack

It turns out that limiting the effectiveness of a terror attack is one of the unexpected benefits of advanced safety features. This does not appear to be true automatic braking but rather a system whereby the brakes are applied after a collision much the same way airbags are deployed A real automatic braking system, which applies the brakes in anticipation of a collision, might have avoided the tragedy altogether.

“The truck that plowed into a Berlin Christmas market last week, killing 12, came to a halt due to an automatic braking system, according to German media reports on Wednesday. The automatic braking system potentially saved the lives of many more people in the recent terrorist attack. An investigation by newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and broadcasters “NDR” and “WDR” found the Scania R 450 semi-trailer stopped after travelling between 70 and 80 meters (250 feet). The system was reportedly engaged after sensing a collision.”

http://www.dw.com/en/automatic-brakes-stopped-berlin-truck-during-christmas-market-attack/a-36936455

10)      Lenovo switches to Windows 10 Signature Edition image for its future ThinkPad laptops

Windows 10 Signature Edition is a “bloatware” free version of Windows in that the only bloatware is Microsoft bloatware such as various demo versions, etc.. You can actually buy a wide variety of laptops directly from Microsoft with Windows 10 Signature Edition installed, often at very competitive prices. PC vendors are typically paid by bloatware companies to install bloatware on their products. Unfortunately, in Lenovo’s case, that meant distributing malware with their premium PCs which shot hole in their reputation as a trustworthy vendor for corporate users. This is most likely a marketing response to restore that reputation rather than an effort to move away from bloatware.

“Ahead of CES 2017, Lenovo today announced the major changes coming to its ThinkPad lineup of laptops and PCs. Most of them are very welcome changes and consumers are going to love the new improvements. First, Lenovo has decided to ship 2017 ThinkPad models with Microsoft’s Signature Edition Windows 10 right out of the box. So, users don’t have to worry about bloatware anymore. Signature Edition PCs are clean, fast and protected.”

https://mspoweruser.com/lenovo-switches-windows-10-signature-edition-image-future-thinkpad-laptops/

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

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

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

Happy Winter Solstice Celebration!

 

1)          How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists

The recent launches of the iPhone 7 and MacBooks demonstrate quite clearly the rot has set in at Apple. Neither product has any feature you might refer to as novel, despite the hype and super-premium price tag. In fact, it didn’t appear to occur to anybody at Apple that you might want to plug an iPhone 7 into a new MacBook without an expensive dongle adaptor. Quite a turnaround for a company which used to go by “it just works”. Eventually the chickens will come home to roost. Thanks to my colleague Paul Kantorovich for this article.

“In October, after more than 500 days without an update, Apple unveiled the new MacBook Pro with a slimmer design and louder speakers. The laptop garnered mostly favorable reviews from the technology press but grumbles from creative types, a key constituency, who said the device under-performed rival products. Interviews with people familiar with Apple’s inner workings reveal that the Mac is getting far less attention than it once did. They say the Mac team has lost clout with the famed industrial design group led by Jony Ive and the company’s software team. They also describe a lack of clear direction from senior management, departures of key people working on Mac hardware and technical challenges that have delayed the roll-out of new computers.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-20/how-apple-alienated-mac-loyalists

2)          Russian ‘methbot’ fraud steals $180 million in online ads

This is a pretty sophisticated operation and I am not even sure if it is correct to call it “fraud”. After all where in the law does it say that annoying ads have to be watched by a human being? Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Methbot, so nicknamed because the fake browser refers to itself as the “methbrowser,” operates as a sham intermediary advertising ring: Companies would pay millions to run expensive video ads. Then they would deliver those ads to what appeared to be major websites. In reality, criminals had created more than 250,000 counterfeit web pages no real person was visiting. White Ops first spotted the criminal operation in October, and it is making up to $5 million per day — by generating up to 300 million fake “video impressions” daily. In the past, hackers have figured out how to deliver malvertising (viruses through ads) and how to fake clicks on ads. But this is another level.”

http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/20/technology/ad-fraud-online-methbot/

3)          Uber sending self-driving cars to Arizona

The reason Uber is sending its self-driving cars to Arizona is because the US Department of Transportation (which has been very friendly to autonomous vehicle trials in the past) ordered them off the road due to numerous safety related incidents. I continue to believe Uber is interested in deflecting attention away from its inability to run a business (see http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/19/despite-china-windfall-uber-on-pace-for-unprecedented-losses-report-says.html) so it can continue to raise money from gullible investors. That said I won’t be surprised if Arizona is the future home of the first person killed by an AV.

“Uber is moving its self-driving pilot project to Arizona, one day after the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the autonomous vehicles off the roads in San Francisco. “Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon in a statement. “We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey.” After starting its San Francisco test on Dec. 14, the ride-hailing company angered the mayor and officials at the DMV by refusing to get a permit to operate its self-driving cars. Residents also flagged several incidents involving the self-driving vehicles, such as running red lights. And so, around noon on Thursday, a fleet of Uber self-driving cars passed through the South of Market area on the backs of several flatbed trucks. Commuters gawked at the fleet with their distinctive hoods, backing up traffic as the convoy slowly drove by.”

http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Uber-sending-self-driving-cars-to-Arizona-10813886.php

4)          Canada sets universal broadband goal of 50Mbps and unlimited data for all

Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure went from world leading to 3rd world comparable over the space of about 20 years, largely due to idiotic or corrupt (I prefer to believe my government is corrupt rather than stupid) policy decisions. There is little hope we can catch up to places like Romania as long as the various protections remain for the telecoms companies. This announcement had global coverage but it is not altogether that significant unless it is backed up by structural changes which aren’t go to happen as long as the telecoms companies continue to control the media as they do. Politicians need the media and the media are directly controlled by the telecommunications companies.

“Canada’s telecom regulator yesterday declared that broadband Internet must be considered “a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians” and created a fund to connect rural and remote communities. With this decision, high-speed broadband is now treated as an essential technology similar to voice service. All Canadians should be able to purchase home Internet with 50Mbps download speeds and 10Mbps uploads, and they should have the option of purchasing unlimited data, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announcement said. A new fund will make $750 million available over the next five years to support projects in areas where that level of broadband isn’t available.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/12/canada-sets-universal-broadband-goal-of-50mbps-and-unlimited-data-for-all/

5)          Facebook at a Crossroads

I don’t really understand social media but a look at Facebook’s financial results shows that almost all its revenue comes from North American users and not from the new users which sign up in places like India. Growth is typically due to increased revenue from North American users, not new users or increased revenue from non-North American users. The North American Facebook user numbers are probably at saturation and the question becomes one of “what’s next” for Facebook.

“Altogether, Zuckerberg has yet to prove that he can build a new business or product to stand alongside his existing one: offering communications tools that target ads to their users. And recent months have shown that he can’t simply take that core business for granted while he boots up longer-term ideas. Facebook’s chief financial officer recently cautioned investors that revenue growth will slow in 2017 because the service can’t cram more ads in front of people without annoying them.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603198/facebook-at-a-crossroads/

6)          Motion-Planning Chip Speeds Robots

Certain types of problems require an enormous amount of computing power which take a long time to execute on a general purpose processor so researchers often turn to Graphic Processors (GPU) such as those made by AMD and Nvidia. Once the algorithms are really well understood it usually pays to make a special purpose processor whose innards are tweaked to the type of processing required. The first step in that process is typically a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) which is a sort of reprogrammable logic device. The same thing will happen with “deep learning” – an emerging technology which has caused Nvidia’s stock to go parabolic. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“This motion-planning process is one of the most important skills a robot can have, and it’s also one of the most time consuming. Researchers at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., have found a way to speed up motion planning by three orders of magnitude while using one-twentieth the power. Their solution is a custom processor that can perform the most time-consuming part of the job—checking for all potential collisions across the robot’s entire range of motion—with unprecedented efficiency.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/robotics-software/motionplanning-chip-speeds-robots

7)          FCC Republicans vow to gut net neutrality rules “as soon as possible”

The incoming US administration is poised to do a whole lot of damage to the US technology sector if they proceed with a trade war as promised. The only losers (besides the tech companies) will be US consumers, but a plutocracy has little concern for them. They plan on doing damage domestically as well: the US telecommunications industry is even worse than Canada due to a similar legacy of bad policy. The most frightening prospect for consumers is the possibility “net neutrality” will be unwound. This would be a windfall for the large Internet Service Providers who would be able to increase profits while decreasing investment. It would cause a whole lot of hurt for the likes of Netflix and emerging content providers. Consumers in the US are typically served by a single ISP so there is no chance market forces will provide balance until 5G wireless is launched.

“More broadly, the Title II net neutrality order prohibits ISPs from blocking or throttling traffic or giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment. The order also set up a complaint process to prevent “unjust” or “unreasonable” pricing and practices. The threat of complaints to the FCC helped put an end to several disputes between ISPs and other network operators over network interconnection payments; this in turn improved Internet service quality for many subscribers. All of that is in jeopardy with the Pai/O’Rielly promise to undo the entire Title II net neutrality order. The process could take months, even if they get started right away, because of requirements to seek public comment. The Republican-controlled Congress could act more quickly, since Trump has opposed net neutrality rules and isn’t likely to veto a bill overturning the Title II order.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/fcc-republicans-vow-to-gut-net-neutrality-rules-as-soon-as-possible/

8)          Ham-fisted: Chap’s radio app killed remotely after posting bad review

I have no real idea what ham radio software does but this company’s actions are consistent with a trend to punish users who have the bad judgement to publish a negative online review for a product or service. Since most online reviews are fake, the only ones with any merit are the negative ones (though competitors can fake those as well). Regardless, punishing the reviewer is a pretty stupid move due to the Streisand Effect which amplifies bad coverage once people find out about it.

“HRD Software later said Giercyk’s license key had been blackballed, causing the software to close while starting up: the updated program would phone headquarters to check the key and discover the license had been revoked, forcing it to terminate. “I called the support line and asked them to explain what they were doing, and they informed me that I was blacklisted and the file they directed me to download blocked the software on my computer from running,” Giercyk, aka N2SUB, told fellow hams in a forum post. “Two days later, they contacted me and stated they would unlock my software if I removed the review I posted.””

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/12/19/ham_radio_app_bad_review/

9)          Feds say Chicago e-recycler faked tear-downs, then sent CRTs to Hong Kong

E-waste was such a big deal the half-wits who run Ontario decided there needed to be a “technology tax” to offset it. The “fees” (i.e. a private tax paid into an industry slush fund) are fixed in price even though technology products drop in price and waste quite rapidly. As a result a substantial amount of the cost of certain items (over 20% in the case of a wireline telephone I bought) is technology tax. Oddly enough, the tax is highly selective and only applies to certain items despite a higher “e-waste” component in, say, appliances. Of course, like this guy in Chicago, oversight is pretty lax and you can be sure most electronic waste ends up in land fill. After all: what possible incentive does a consumer have to “e-cycle” a device after he’s paid a tax on it?

“Brundage promised his clients that their old computers, TV monitors, and various other devices would be broken down into their component parts and recycled in keeping with federal guidelines. Instead, feds allege that Brundage shipped some of those electronics for illegal disposal in landfills overseas. Those electronics included Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) from old computer and TV monitors, which contained “hazardous amounts of lead,” as well as batteries. The electronics that weren’t shipped to Asia were destroyed inappropriately on the premises of his businesses or stockpiled indefinitely in warehouses, which is forbidden by federal guidelines.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/feds-say-chicago-e-recycler-faked-tear-downs-then-sent-crts-to-hong-kong/

10)      The White House predicts nearly all truck, taxi, and delivery driver jobs will be automated

In other news, almost all horse coach drivers are now unemployed! Actually emergence of autonomous vehicles will likely have a negative impact on driver employment though I suspect delivery drivers will still be needed to place the parcel etc.. The real question is when: there is no reason to believe truly autonomous vehicles (i.e. no driver at all) will be on the road, let alone common, within 20 years. Even then it will take another decade or more before the fleet is switched out.

“In a report published Tuesday, the White House estimated that nearly 3.1 million drivers working today could have their jobs automated by autonomous vehicles. However, the report doesn’t offer a timeline for when this automation could occur, just that the jobs as they exist now are at risk. A bulk of the jobs come from heavy trucking, which the report estimates will see 80% to 100% of nearly 1.7 million drivers’ jobs automated. The White House predicts delivery drivers and self-employed drivers for on-demand services like Uber will face almost total automation as well.”

http://qz.com/868716/the-white-house-predicts-nearly-all-truck-taxi-and-delivery-driver-jobs-will-be-automated/