The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 12 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 12 2017

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice. That 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)            The US standards office wants to do away with periodic password changes

I have always wonders why we are supposed to change our passwords frequently. If anything it encourages people to create easy to remember passwords like Foobar1 (or if the password changer won’t let you do that 05Foobar) and, since most penetrations occur from social engineering it isn’t likely to help security in any event.

“New guidelines from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), expected to be released this summer, suggest that periodic password changes are no longer necessary. The report also recommends changes to several other password policies that have become antiquated in the modern computing environment: Allow at least 64 characters in length to support the use of passphrases. Encourage users to make memorized secrets as lengthy as they want, using any characters they like (including spaces), thus aiding memorization. Do not impose other composition rules (e.g. mixtures of different character types) on memorized secrets.”

https://qz.com/981941/the-us-standards-office-wants-to-do-away-with-periodic-password-changes/

2)            Artificial Intelligence Fails on Kentucky Derby Predictions

It is not clear that “Unanimous AI” is actually about an AI but rather about the completely wrong idea that the collective has “wisdom” (seriously: there is one right answer an a large number of wrong ones so if you rely on a crowd the best you can hope for is occasionally correct). Nevertheless this makes an important point about most of the nonsense surrounding AI: we would never have heard of Unanimous AI if it had been wrong the first time, just like we never hear of the doubtless countless failures of AI in real world applications. The times when it gets things right get written up and that’s all you ever hear about.

“A platform that crowdsources the insights of experts to make predictions on events has come up short in its second attempt to call the Kentucky Derby. It got last year’s race exactly right. Unanimous A.I., a company touting the power of collective intelligence to provide insights into the future, correctly predicted the top four finishers of the 2016 Derby: Nyquist, Exaggerator, Gun Runner, and Mohaymen. Anyone who bet their prediction of the top four finishers would have scored a so-called “superfecta” that paid out on odds of 540 to 1. That success earned Unanimous this year an official handicapping partnership with Churchill Downs, the racetrack where the Kentucky Derby is held, and the company once again used its AI platform to analyze input from “some of the best racing minds in the world.””

http://fortune.com/2017/05/07/artificial-intelligence-kentucky-derby-predictions/

3)            HP laptops covertly log user keystrokes, researchers warn

You really have to wonder what people are thinking when they do stuff like this. The best case scenario is that Conexant released some software with a debug setting in software while the worst case software is that they did it intentionally. Either way if you own an HP laptop you should get this fixed. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“HP is selling more than two dozen models of laptops and tablets that covertly monitor every keystroke a user makes, security researchers warned Thursday. The devices then store the key presses in an unencrypted file on the hard drive. The keylogger is included in a device driver developed by Conexant, a manufacturer of audio chips that are included in the vulnerable HP devices. That’s according to an advisory published by modzero, a Switzerland-based security consulting firm. One of the device driver components is MicTray64.exe, an executable file that allows the driver to respond when a user presses special keys. It turns out that the file sends all keystrokes to a debugging interface or writes them to a log file available on the computer’s C drive.”

https://arstechnica.com/security/2017/05/hp-laptops-covert-log-every-keystroke-researchers-warn/

4)            Cisco And Oracle Applaud The Looming Death Of Net Neutrality

Cisco and Oracle are both dinosaur companies who get a lot of money from carriers so this position is hardly a surprise since they are saying something their major customers would want them to say. That said, the ISP business in North America is somewhat of a pathetic, uncompetitive joke and providing a means for ISPs to make free money will simply allow them to reduce their spending further, meaning Oracle and Cisco had better be careful what they wish for.

“Both Oracle and Cisco (not coincidentally major ISP vendors) have come out in full-throated support of the FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality. FCC boss Ajit Pai has been making the rounds the last few weeks in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, trying to drum up support of his attack on broadband consumer protections. Pai met with Cisco, Oracle, Facebook and Apple in a number of recent meetings, but so far only Oracle and Cisco have been willing to enthusiastically and publicly throw their corporate fealty behind Pai’s extremely-unpopular policies.”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170510/07262037333/cisco-oracle-applaud-looming-death-net-neutrality.shtml

5)            Britain’s entire health network hit by major hacking attack

Ransomware is an increasingly popular form of malware being used against businesses and public institutions. You have to be a pretty sad human being to target the health sector but nobody ever accused hackers of having a soul. I can’t help but wonder if full, off-line backups are a prudent countermeasure. To add insult to injury some reports claim the “exploit” being used is courtesy of the NSA.

“The UK’s National Health Service appears to have suffered a major hacking attack. Ransomware, a form of virus that encrypts personal files and then demands payment to decrypt them, appears to have infected computers in hospitals and doctor’s offices across the country. The full extent of the attack is unknown, but the BBC is reporting that hospitals in London, Blackburn, Nottingham, Cumbria and Hertfordshire have been affected. The NHS uses a national computer system to help administer the service, and it appears that it has been infected, rather than just individual computers. In a statement, NHS Digital said: “We’re aware that a number of trusts that have reported potential issues to the CareCERT team. We believe it to be ransomware.””

http://bgr.com/2017/05/12/nhs-hack-ransomware-cyberattack/

6)            Everything You Need to Know About 5G

5G wireless could change things a lot, in particular as it should allow the emergence of fixed wireless ISPs and real competition in North America. Another angle is that governments are freeing up a massive amount of unlicensed spectrum for use in 5G. The video is worth a watch although I am pretty sure their explanation of beam forming and full duplex are wrong or grossly oversimplified.

“If all goes well, telecommunications companies hope to debut the first commercial 5G networks in the early 2020s. Right now, though, 5G is still in the planning stages, and companies and industry groups are working together to figure out exactly what it will be. But they all agree on one matter: As the number of mobile users and their demand for data rises, 5G must handle far more traffic at much higher speeds than the base stations that make up today’s cellular networks. To achieve this, wireless engineers are designing a suite of brand-new technologies. Together, these technologies will deliver data with less than a millisecond of delay (compared to about 70 ms on today’s 4G networks) and bring peak download speeds of 20 gigabits per second (compared to 1 Gb/s on 4G) to users.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/video/telecom/wireless/everything-you-need-to-know-about-5g

7)            Analysis predicts extremely disruptive, total transition to EV / autonomous vehicles in 13 years

As usual, industry isn’t worth the electrons on the web page but this sort of nonsense influences a lot of people. For the record there is virtually zero chance of a commercially available autonomous vehicle being on the road by 2030, let alone 2020. Even then the US fleet is about 260M vehicles and about 16.5M new cars are sold per year. Roughly speaking this means it takes about 16 years to “change out” the fleet so even if 100% of cars were autonomous and EVs by 2020 (vs zero today) this is unachievable.

“Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030 suggests that within 10 years of regulatory approval, by 2030, 95 percent of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles (AEVs). The primary driver of this unfathomably huge change in American life is economics: The cost savings of using transport-as-a-service (TaaS) providers will be so great that consumers will abandon individually owned vehicles. The report predicts that the cost of TaaS will save the average family $5600 annually, the equivalent of a 10 percent raise in salary. This, the report suggests, will lead to the biggest increase in consumer spending in history.”

https://techxplore.com/news/2017-05-analysis-extremely-disruptive-total-transition.html

8)            Tesla’s Solar Roof Sets Musk’s Grand Unification Into Motion

Step right up folks! The carnival barker has his latest scheme and he is now taking deposits. As a guy who built his house I can tell you that most houses lack the capacity to support something like glass shingle. The fact that actual roofing companies don’t sell them should be another hint. As for the solar business, well it may be that governments want to subsidized new roofs for rich people but, obviously that can only continue as long as few people have them. I’d find it a lot easier to believe in solar if solar companies didn’t go bankrupt with such staggering regularity. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Tesla has begun taking orders for its transformative new solar roof. The pricing is competitive, and it marks the final piece in Elon Musk’s vision for a grand unification of his clean-energy ambitions—combining solar power, home batteries, and electric cars. “These are really the three legs of the stool for a sustainable energy future,” Musk said. “Solar power going to a stationary battery pack so you have power at night, and then charging an electric vehicle … you can scale that to all the world’s demand.” Tesla opened up its online store and began taking $1,000 deposits for two of four options unveiled in October: a smooth black glass and textured-glass roof tiles. From most viewing angles, the slick shingles look like standard roof materials, but they allow light to pass through from above onto a solar cell embedded beneath the tempered surface. The first installations will begin in the U.S. in June, though orders are being accepted from countries around the world for 2018.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-11/tesla-s-solar-roof-sets-musk-s-grand-unification-into-motion

9)            A federal court has ruled that an open-source license is an enforceable contract

I used to follow a company which note that its products were based on GPL licensed software but which didn’t actually release the source code as required by the license. Oh well: it was sold to a European firm at much more than it was worth so there. This is actually interesting legal precedent: as long as this holds the many companies abusing the GPL might find themselves sued.

“The enforceability of open source licenses like the GNU GPL has long been an open legal question. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals held in a 2006 case, Jacobsen v. Katzer, that violations of open source licenses could be treated like copyright claims. But whether they could legally considered breaches of contract had yet to be determined, until the issue came up in Artifex v. Hancom. That happened when Hancom issued a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the company didn’t sign anything, so the license wasn’t a real contract.”

https://qz.com/981029/a-federal-court-has-ruled-that-an-open-source-license-is-an-enforceable-contract/

10)        The Amazing Dinosaur Found (Accidentally) by Miners in Canada

This is a story about the “Suncor ankylosaur”, an unbelievably well preserved fossil found in a Suncor oil-sands mine near Fort McMurray. This https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJx5VlIAMk0&t=710s is a short documentary on the work they did to extract the fossil. The amazing thing is not just that it was incredibly well preserved but also that it was discovered on a mine site where the crew had almost unlimited access to staff, material, and equipment for its extraction.

“At first glance the reassembled gray blocks look like a nine-foot-long sculpture of a dinosaur. A bony mosaic of armor coats its neck and back, and gray circles outline individual scales. Its neck gracefully curves to the left, as if reaching toward some tasty plant. But this is no lifelike sculpture. It’s an actual dinosaur, petrified from the snout to the hips. The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.””

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/06/dinosaur-nodosaur-fossil-discovery/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 5 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 5 2017

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice. That 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)            Qualcomm Said to Seek U.S. Import Ban for iPhones

Under US law there is very little chance Qualcomm will be awarded an injunction and any such injunction would almost certainly be set aside on appeal. Qualcomm is playing with fire here: it has just handed Apple a very good reason to diversify away from Qualcomm, placing further pressure on Qualcomm to settle for lower royalty rates.

“Incensed over Apple Inc.’s decision to stop paying it billions of dollars in licensing fees for smartphone chips, Qualcomm Inc. plans to retaliate by asking a U.S. trade agency to ban the imports of iPhones, according to a person familiar with the company’s strategy. Qualcomm is preparing to ask the International Trade Commission to stop the iPhone, which is built in Asia, from entering the country, threatening to block Apple’s iconic product from the American market in advance of its anticipated new model this fall, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.The ITC is a quasi-judicial agency in Washington that has the power to block the import of goods into the U.S. and processes cases more quickly than federal district courts — the venue in which the companies are accusing each other of lying, making threats and trying to create an illegal monopoly.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-03/qualcomm-said-to-seek-u-s-import-ban-for-iphones

2)            Driving EVs Will Mean 200 Million Fewer Cars in U.S. by 2030, Study Claims

Yeah. Good luck with that. This is 2017. There will almost certainly not be any commercially available self-driving cars on the road within the next 15 to 25 years (at least if you define a self-driving car as a car which can drive without human intervention in all weather on all roads). If, as, and when that happens, it will take about 20 or more years before 95% of passenger miles will be made using those vehicles. Let me know in 13 years.

“The new report, conducted by independent research group RethinkX and released Thursday, suggests that within a decade of the governmental approval of self-driving road vehicles—or around the year 2030, by the group’s best guesstimate—95 percent of passenger miles traveled in the U.S. will be conducted in autonomous electric cars that can be summoned on demand, a la Cruise Automation’s San Francisco Chevy Bolt. Those cars, the study says, will make up 60 percent of the vehicles on the road in America by that point. And since each of those shared self-driving EVs can replace multiple privately-owned cars, the study predicts the number of passenger vehicles on the road will fall precipitously—from about 247 million vehicles in 2017 to just 44 million.”

http://www.thedrive.com/news/9982/self-driving-evs-will-mean-200-million-fewer-cars-in-u-s-by-2030-study-claims

 

3)            IBM warns of malware it shipped on flash drives

I once worked for a company which accidently shipped malware on floppies, likely due to a combination of employees using pirated software and poor quality assurance. Mind you that was a small private company so they had an excuse. How a company like IBM could do the same thing 25 years later is another issue altogether.

“IBM is urging customers to destroy flash drives it shipped to storage system customers because they contain malware. The company warned in an advisory Tuesday that an unspecified number of USB flash drives shipped with the initialization tool for Storwize systems contain malicious code. IBM instructed customers who received the V3500, V3700 and V5000 Gen 1 systems to destroy the drive to prevent the code from replicating. “When the initialization tool is launched from the USB flash drive, the tool copies itself to a temporary folder on the hard drive of the desktop or laptop during normal operation,” IBM said in its advisory. The malicious code is part of the Reconyc Trojan malware family, which typically targets computers in Russia and India, according to data from Kaspersky Lab.”

https://www.cnet.com/news/ibm-warns-of-malware-it-shipped-on-flash-drives/

4)            Oddities start to emerge from deeper analyses of LHC data

It has been said that the most exciting words in science are not “Eureka!” but “that’s odd”. The LHC generates massive quantities of data which will take a very long time to sort out. It stands to reason that most of the analysis is directed towards answering known questions like is there a Higgs Boson, but the real discoveries will come when anomalies from the standard model are uncovered.

“The Large Hadron Collider has generated a staggering amount of data in its years of operation; it’s enough data that we’ll be analyzing it for years after the collider shuts down. In the meantime, priority has gone to searches for big-ticket items like the Higgs boson (tick) and dark matter particles (MIA). But with time, some other analyses have managed to get done, and they’re beginning to turn up unexpected results.”

https://arstechnica.co.uk/science/2017/04/oddities-start-to-emerge-from-deeper-analyses-of-lhc-data/

5)            Scientists Surprised to Find No Two Neurons Are Genetically Alike

This is a surprising finding but not altogether unexpected: there are a lot of cells in the body and random mutations happen. Most such mutations are corrected, entirely benign, or result in cell death. That neurons appear to be so different from each other suggest there may be yet another dimension to intelligence beyond synapses and biochemistry and pushes understanding the brain back even further. Thanks to Avner Mandelman for this item.

“Accepted dogma holds that—although every cell in the body contains its own DNA—the genetic instructions in each cell nucleus are identical. But new research has now proved this assumption wrong. There are actually several sources of spontaneous mutation in somatic (nonsex) cells, resulting in every individual containing a multitude of genomes—a situation researchers term somatic mosaicism. “The idea is something that 10 years ago would have been science fiction,” says biochemist James Eberwine of the University of Pennsylvania. “We were taught that every cell has the same DNA, but that’s not true.” There are reasons to think somatic mosaicism may be particularly important in the brain, not least because neural genes are very active.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-surprised-to-find-no-two-neurons-are-genetically-alike/

6)            Gene Editing Strategy Eliminates HIV-1 Infection in Live Animals, Temple Researchers Show

I could probably write a CRISPR newsletter and have more interesting assortment of stories than the GRL has. In summary, CRISPR allows highly precise gene editing and has a wide variety of applications including inserting the mechanism into viruses or bacteriophages which can be highly targeted, and using those to seek out and alter specific cell types. If anything most coverage of CRISPR underestimates its long term potential.

“A permanent cure for HIV infection remains elusive due to the virus’s ability to hide away in latent reservoirs. But now, in new research published in print May 3 in the journal Molecular Therapy, scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) and the University of Pittsburgh show that they can excise HIV DNA from the genomes of living animals to eliminate further infection. They are the first to perform the feat in three different animal models, including a “humanized” model in which mice were transplanted with human immune cells and infected with the virus.”

http://www.templehealth.org/News/GeneEditingStrategyEliminatesHIV-1Infection/BRinLiveAnimalsTempleResearchersShow?id=3247

7)            Fix your crappy ads and I’ll stop blocking them

I suspect the GRL might be bounced by a number of subscribers whose employers use “net nanny” software which will bounce this email because of the word “crappy”. I think this article is good summary: digital ads are the wild-west: often include scams or fraud, and no serious effort is made to control their quality. The best and easiest approach is to block all ads and keep your sanity. Unless and until some quality control is implemented the trend toward ad-blocking will continue.

“Ad-block users are finding an increasing number of sites blocking access. I wonder if any of them asked themselves why we block ads? Do they suppose we’re anti-capitalist scum fundamentally opposed to the idea of marketing? It sometimes feels that way. But I’m not opposed to marketing, and I feel the internet has a lot of missed opportunities. Unfortunately, most ads are intrusive, poorly targeted, scummy and have a host of technical issues. Basically they’re just crap. And that’s why I block them.”

https://mortoray.com/2017/05/02/fix-your-crappy-ads-and-ill-stop-blocking-them/

8)            Analyst: The Cord-Cutting Future Has Arrived

This is something I predicted about 20 years ago in a short piece I wrote as a stock-analyst. Essentially the traditional broadcast model was driven by the broadcaster (including cable) determining what you were going to watch and when you were going to watch it. This eventually led to all kinds of abuses such as bundling, and so on. The real story here is one of opportunity: as more and more alternatives come available there will be access to more content, not less content and consumers will finally watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it.

“With most results now in, the U.S. pay TV industry lost about 762,000 video subs in the first quarter of 2017, a worst-ever result for the period, according to a new report from MoffettNathanson. “For the better part of fifteen years, pundits have predicted that cord-cutting was the future. Well, the future has arrived,” MoffetNathanson’s Craig Moffett declared in his Q1 2017 Cord-Cutting Monitor. He noted that video losses from Q1 was more than five times as large as last year’s loss of 141,000. “It leaves the Pay TV subscriber universe shrinking at its worst ever annual rate of decline (-2.4%). And it was the worst ever accelerate in the rate of decline (60 bps),” Moffett explained, adding later that the incremental number of cord-cutter and cord-never homes has grown to more than 6.5 million since 2013.”

http://www.multichannel.com/news/content/analyst-cord-cutting-future-has-arrived/412599

9)            Apple-Picking Robot Prepares to Compete for Farm Jobs

While the media (and many economists) are horrified at the prospect of massive job losses due to automation it is a useful reminder that agricultural employment has plummeted over the past 100 years, primarily due to automation. After all, a “McCormick Reaper” is nothing more than a mechanical scyther. Agricultural productivity has skyrocketed and resulted in massive redeployment of labor over the years and yet our standard of living skyrocketed and food cheaper than ever. Get over it: robots are just another phase of the industrial revolution. They are a good thing.

“Today apple orchards rely on people to pick their crops. Dan Steere, cofounder and CEO of Abundant, says recent tests in Australia, where apple season is under way, proved that the company’s prototype can spot apples roughly as accurately as a human, and pull them down just as gently. The machine deposits apples in the same large crates that human pickers use. “The results convinced us that we’re on the right path to scale up to a full commercial system,” says Steere. His company is planning more tests of its prototype in Washington this fall and aims to have a multi-armed system on sale to growers in 2018. “Our commercial system will pick at rates that match crews of tens of people,” says Steere.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/604303/apple-picking-robot-prepares-to-compete-for-farm-jobs/

10)        The AI Cargo Cult: The Myth of a Superhuman AI

It is interesting to note that none of Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Max Tegmark, Sam Harris, and Bill Gates are AI experts (and I would question whether more than a couple are among the “smartest people alive today”) but the article is a good read. I believe there are many uses for AI but it has significant limitations – not the least of which being that it is not generally cross functional, heuristic, and makes highly confident pronouncements which can be absolutely wrong. Fear of AI is fear of the fiction that is how AI is reported. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“That’s the most common question I get whenever I give a talk about AI. The questioners are earnest; their worry stems in part from some experts who are asking themselves the same thing. These folks are some of the smartest people alive today, such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Max Tegmark, Sam Harris, and Bill Gates, and they believe this scenario very likely could be true. Recently at a conference convened to discuss these AI issues, a panel of nine of the most informed gurus on AI all agreed this superhuman intelligence was inevitable and not far away. Yet buried in this scenario of a takeover of superhuman artificial intelligence are five assumptions which, when examined closely, are not based on any evidence. These claims might be true in the future, but there is no evidence to date to support them.”

https://backchannel.com/the-myth-of-a-superhuman-ai-59282b686c62

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 28 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 28 2017

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice. That 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)            The Race To Build An AI Chip For Everything Just Got Real

This is an update to stories I’ve had over the past few weeks regarding the changing landscape in AI. To summarize, inference (using AI) is used much more frequently than training in the majority of applications meaning cost reduction here is key. Companies are moving rapidly to introduce alternatives to costly and power-hungry GPUs typically made by NVidia. Don’t believe it for a moment that GPUs are safe because of an existing ecosystem: people learn and programmers learn new computer languages particularly quickly. This is an emerging field and it is foolish to believe something designed for one thing (graphics) happens to be the optimal solution for an unrelated thing (deep learning).

“Google says that in rolling out its TPU chip, it saved the cost of building about 15 extra data centers. Now, as companies like Google and Facebook push neural networks onto phones and VR headsets—so they can eliminate the delay that comes when shuttling images to distant data centers—they need AI chips that can run on personal devices, too. “There is a lot of headroom there for even more specialized chips that are even more efficient,” LeCun says. In other words, the market for AI chips is potentially enormous. That’s why so many companies are jumping into the mix.”

https://www.wired.com/2017/04/race-make-ai-chips-everything-heating-fast

2)            Backdoor Code Discovered in Popular Bitcoin Mining Equipment

The more you look into the Bitcoin industry the sketchier it appears to be. In this case a company which sells “bitcoin mining equipment” (seriously if you had a machine which could cost effectively produce more gold than it cost would you sell it?) has a backdoor which allows it to shut down all such equipment if, or when it decided to do so. Apparently there is a work around but that only works because somebody figured out there was a backdoor. Why would a company do such a thing unless it planned on exploiting it?

‘An anonymous security researcher has published details on a vulnerability named “Antbleed,” which the author claims is a remote backdoor affecting Bitcoin mining equipment sold by Bitmain, the largest vendor of crypto-currency mining hardware on the market. The so-called “backdoor” code was added to the firmware of Bitmain products on July 11, 2016. A security researcher reported the issue to Bitmain on September 19, 2016, via the company’s GitHub repository, where the company hosts the source code of its firmware. The original bug report was ignored until yesterday, when a newly-launched website called Antbleed detailed the backdoor’s features.”

https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/backdoor-code-discovered-in-popular-bitcoin-mining-equipment/

3)            OTT Video Viewership Will Surpass Traditional TV Next Two Years

Even though I agree with the general direction suggested by this study (i.e. that OTT video will increase and broadcast/cable will decrease) always take predictions and studies with a large grain of salt, especially when they are prepared by companies with a stake in a bullish view. I rather doubt streaming will move that quickly but I do believe it will eventually become the way people consume video.

“According to a survey of nearly 500 media professionals, over-the-top (OTT) video is exploding in today’s marketplace. Close to three-quarter (72%) of respondents agree that offering OTT services is a viable revenue opportunity according to the 2017 OTT Video Services Study by Level 3 Communications, Inc., Streaming Media, and Unisphere Research. OTT is a good business strategy for competing in the marketplace. It can be ideal for a linear based video supplier, attracting viewers or new subscribers, distributing new content, and increasing profitability. Seventy percent of the respondents forecast that within the next five years, viewership of OTT video will surpass traditional broadcast TV. Nearly 85% of survey participants that currently offer OTT are very positive about revenue opportunities. Sixteen percent anticipate 50% or more increases year-over-year.”

https://digitalcontentnext.org/blog/2017/04/26/ott-video-viewership-will-surpass-traditional-tv-next-two-years/

4)            Robots Are Slashing U.S. Wages and Worsening Pay Inequality

Maybe I have a different definition of the work “slashing” but the effect seems pretty small. Given a minor effect and the myriad of things going on in the economy it is hard to accept there is a firm case for a causal relationship. Perhaps things like adjust the tax rates of high income earners down significantly had an even greater effect or where the cause of the shift. I’d also be interested in seeing how robotics impacted wages in China over the same period when standards of living improved dramatically at the same time as investment in automation exploded.

“”The employment effects of robots are most pronounced in manufacturing, and in particular, in industries most exposed to robots; in routine manual, blue collar, assembly and related occupations; and for workers with less than college education,” the authors write. “Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, we do not find positive and offsetting employment gains in any occupation or education groups.” Worth noting: the authors estimate that robots may have increased the wage gap between the top 90th and bottom 10 percent by as much as 1 percentage point between 1990 and 2007. There’s also room for much broader robot adoption, which would make all of these effects much bigger.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-28/robots-are-slashing-u-s-wages-and-worsening-pay-inequality

5)            DNA-based test can spot cancer recurrence a year before conventional scans

This is an interesting development, and not just because of the early detection but the ability to determine drug resistance, allowing doctors to change treatment plans. Presumably the sooner you know there is a recurrence the earlier you can treat it and the more likely you are to cause further remission. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“A revolutionary blood test has been shown to diagnose the recurrence of cancer up to a year in advance of conventional scans in a major lung cancer trial. The test, known as a liquid biopsy, could buy crucial time for doctors by indicating that cancer is growing in the body when tumours are not yet detectable on CT scans and long before the patient becomes aware of physical symptoms. It works by detecting free-floating mutated DNA, released into the bloodstream by dying cancer cells. In the trial of 100 lung cancer patients, scientists saw precipitous rises in tumour DNA in the blood of patients who would go on to relapse months, or even a year, later.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/26/dna-based-test-can-spot-cancer-recurrence-a-year-before-conventional-scans

6)            Facebook says it will crack down on government-led misinformation campaigns

Something I wonder about “fake news” is how you can tell the difference? While some news is objectively false a lot of it is superficial fluff which the publisher creates with no effort or interest as to whether it is true. A surprising amount of news is essentially press releases put together to establish a particular narrative about a situation, political position, or product. And don’t get me started about outright propaganda which gets put out as “news”. So, while “Pope Endorses Trump” may have been fake news, would its objective value have changed much if the Pope had, indeed, endorsed Trump? Facebook has never had a higher purpose: its sole interest is profiting by using your personal information. As such it has evolved into a platform for grandmothers, terrorists, and murderers. I think the least of its problems is “fake news”.

“Facebook’s newest measure to combat disinformation and misuse of its services is a push to rid the social network of malicious, potentially state-sponsored “information operations.” The company, which published a report on the subject today, defines these operations as government-led campaigns — or those from organized “non-state actors” — to promote lies, sow confusion and chaos among opposing political groups, and destabilize movements in other countries. The goal of these operations, the report says, is to manipulate public opinion and serve geopolitical ends.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/27/15453368/facebook-fake-news-information-operations-political-propaganda

7)            Apple investigating wireless charging via Wi-Fi routers, other communications equipment

I wish people would give up on this idea. Not so much the engineers at Apple who probably get a bonus for every patent they get issued but for the people who get excited about it. Let’s start with physics: your router’s output is almost certainly well below 1 watt, probably less than 1/10th of that. A cheap mobile charger delivers 5 watts, or 5 to 50x as much. Your router broadcasts omni-directionally, meaning that (less than) 1 watt is like a spherical shell expanding away from the router so the power drops off proportional to the square of the distance. That omni-directional nature is true even for beam steering which changes the effective power at a particular spot rather than the actual power at a particular spot. Long story short you could only ever get a tiny amount of power. Even then, your “wireless charger” would effectively act as a load on your router so, if your router put out 100 mW and you somehow figured out how to get 100 mW, your router would no longer work. Since routers can cost $100 or more it seems like a poor choice of power source.

“Detailed in Apple’s patent application for “Wireless Charging and Communications Systems With Dual-Frequency Patch Antennas” is a method for transferring power to electronic devices over frequencies normally dedicated to data communications. In its various embodiments, the invention notes power transfer capabilities over any suitable wireless communications link, including cellular between 700 MHz and 2700 MHz, and Wi-Fi operating at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. More specifically, the document’s claims apply to millimeter wave 802.11ad spectrum channels currently in use by the WiGig standard, which operates over the 60 GHz frequency band. Theoretically, the proposal opens the door to wire-free charging from in-home Wi-Fi routers to cellular nodes and even satellite signals. Of course, amplitude in a wireless system is normally a function of distance.”

http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/04/27/apple-investigating-wireless-charging-via-wi-fi-routers-other-communications-equipment

8)            Broadcast Technology Leaders Join Forces to Demonstrate ATSC 3.0 Local Ad Insertion at the 2017 NAB Show

ATSC 3.0 is the next generations Over The Air (OTA) broadcast standard which come with significant enhancements (see http://atsc.org/newsletter/atsc-3-0-where-we-stand/). One such enhancement is the ability to deliver personalized ads, a capability which I think will put more money in Google’s pockets since matching ads to people is pretty much Google’s business. I don’t believe that sort of ad insertion will disrupt broadcast/video in the same manner as what happened in print media as the “personalization” will be more of a partnership with traditional advertisers.

“At the 2017 NAB Show, Ericsson, Sony Electronics, and Triveni Digital will team up to demonstrate an end-to-end ATSC 3.0 workflow for individualized ad insertion using ATSC 3.0 signaling, ROUTE/DASH transport, and transmission. The first-of-its-kind demo provides broadcasters with a streamlined solution for personalizing advertising in the next-generation television environment. The demo will take place at the “NextGen TV Hub” during the 2017 NAB Show in the Grand Lobby of the Las Vegas Convention Center.”

http://www.broadcastingcable.com/thewire/broadcast-technology-leaders-join-forces-demonstrate-atsc-30-local-ad-insertion-2017-nab-show/165229

9)            IFPI Global Report 2017: Industry Sees Highest Revenue Growth in Decades, But the YouTube Issue Remains

It just goes to show you that a lot of online piracy is a reaction to inefficient or non-existent distribution channels. The Music industry fought digital and now half its revenues come from digital music and their revenues are growing. Go figure.

“Strong growth in streaming throughout the world helped lift global music sales by almost 6 percent in 2016, the biggest year-on-year rise in revenues since the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) began tracking the market in 1997. The IFPI’s Global Music Report (previously known as the Digital Music Report) states that trade revenue generated by the global recorded music industry climbed by 5.9 percent to $15.7 billion, with digital sales up 17.7 percent across the board. After digital revenue surpassed physical for the first time in 2015, digital hits another milestone in 2016, accounting for 50 percent ($7.8 billion) of all music sales for the first time.”

http://www.billboard.com/articles/business/7775019/ifpi-global-report-2017-music-industry-highest-revenue-growth-decades

10)        Intel Optane Memory With 3D XPoint Review: Easy, Robust PC Acceleration

Intel announced Optane with some fanfare some time ago. At the time their description of the technology was somewhat vague, with performance, lifetime, and costs covering orders of magnitude with no sense of what the trade-offs were. Unfortunately, it is increasingly looking like the technology might be a bust. The “review” (essentially a product placement) first makes a meaningful comparison with state of the art SSDs (against which Optane fares quite poorly) and then makes a meaningless comparison with a 1TB HDD (essentially an antique). Nobody with a basic knowledge of computing would build a performance PC using a HDD as main storage. So, yes, Optane does work as an accelerator in in a badly built performance PC, but almost certainly your money is better spent buying an SSD. The fact Intel is pushing this (don’t think for a moment the reviewer thought it up himself) is a very bad sign.

“We revealed many details regarding Intel Optane Memory a couple of weeks ago. To quickly reiterate, Intel Optane Memory products and their associated software are designed to cache the most frequently accessed bits of data on a compatible system, which can significantly increase performance and improve responsiveness, if said system is equipped with slower storage media. The implementation is similar to Intel’s original Smart Response Technology, which debuted all the way back when the SSD 311 series of SATA-based solid state drives was released. Intel Optane Memory, however, is better suited to the task due to the drives’ higher performance and consistency at lower queue depths. Intel Smart Response Technology is a caching mechanism that uses a solid state drive, like Intel Optane Memory, to enhance overall system performance and simplify the drive configuration presented to the end-user. The SSD can be paired to the boot drive in a system, regardless of the capacity or drive type, though Optane Memory will most commonly be linked to slower hard drives.”

http://hothardware.com/reviews/intel-optane-memory-with-3d-xpoint-review-and-performance?page=1

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 21 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 21 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)            VMware joins Cisco, HPE and Verizon in shifting course on public cloud

Cloud computing consists of two components: commodity computing and a whole bunch of additional services. The largest players (Amazon, Microsoft, and Google) developed the data centers and additional services in the course of their normal business and that gave them a tremendous leg up on lesser players. Frankly I think it would be hard for the like of HP, let alone a telephone company, to make a case to use their cloud services. At its core that is why they are “shifting course”.

“Successful cloud companies don’t need to be public cloud companies. Confused? Well, if you think the public cloud is the be-all, end-all of cloud computing, that’s understandable. Story after story focuses on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure, Google Compute and IBM Cloud. But, in the background several major companies are abandoning their public clouds. First, HPE dropped its Helion public cloud in 2015. Then, Verizon dropped its public cloud offering in 2016. Later that year, Cisco got out of the public cloud business. Now, VMware has sold its Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) public cloud, vCloud Air, to OVH, a European cloud provider. What’s going on here? Are these companies fleeing the AWS Goliath? That may be part of it, but certainly not the whole story.”

https://blogs.dxc.technology/2017/04/18/vmware-joins-cisco-hpe-and-verizon-in-shifting-course-on-public-cloud/

2)            IBM Sales Miss Shows Return to Growth Not Without Roadblocks

IBM is a company which specializes in financial rather than actual engineering. As this article notes, revenue has been falling for 5 years despite the company spending like drunken sailors on acquisitions. (It seems they’d rather enrich the shareholders of other companies rather than their own). They appear to have bet the farm on things like Watson at a time when AI is becoming a useful commodity which cloud service providers will offer at nominal cost. In the press release the company noted “our cognitive solutions again grew strongly”, because, apparently at IBM an increase of 2.1% in the segment you bet the farm on is “strongly”. Meanwhile the stock is actually up year/year even though it dropped (only) a few percent on this news.

“IBM’s quarterly sales fell short of analysts’ estimates for the first time in a year on struggles in some overseas markets and delays in service contracts, reminding investors that obstacles remain on the path back to growth. The results announced Tuesday marked a 20th consecutive quarterly revenue decline. IBM also reported gross margin that contracted from last year, sending shares down as much as 5.5 percent in extended trading. The stock had gained 11 percent in the past year.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-18/ibm-misses-estimates-in-20th-straight-quarterly-revenue-decline

3)            Silicon Valley’s $400 Juicer May Be Feeling the Squeeze

We covered Juicero as an example of a pathological environment for venture capital in the tech space. In summary this is an Internet connected juice machine which, long story short, squeezed an expensive bag of DRM protected mush. It turns out that people realized they could use their hands to squeeze a bag of mush as well, bringing into question the $400 purchase price of the machine. No worries: in a stroke of brilliance the company issued this http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/20/15375940/juicero-full-refund-customers-ceo-jeff-dunn. Frankly all this sage shows is that you should ignore who invested in a company if you think it is a stupid idea. Stupid ideas don’t become good ideas because Google put money into then. Thanks to Marcel Valentin for this item.

“The experiment found that squeezing the bag yields nearly the same amount of juice just as quickly—and in some cases, faster—than using the device. Juicero declined to comment. A person close to the company said Juicero is aware the packs can be squeezed by hand but that most people would prefer to use the machine because the process is more consistent and less messy. The device also reads a QR code printed on the back of each produce pack and checks the source against an online database to ensure the contents haven’t expired or been recalled, the person said. The expiration date is also printed on the pack. … Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers joined Alphabet Inc. and others in funding Juicero. Evans’s subscription model had hit on a sweet spot for venture capitalists, said Brian Frank, who invests in food-tech companies through his FTW Ventures fund.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-04-19/silicon-valley-s-400-juicer-may-be-feeling-the-squeeze

4)            Toyota is testing heavy-duty hydrogen trucks at the Port of Long Beach

Fuel cells have their uses and the Port of Long Beach (near LA) and the Port of Los Angeles (right next it) may be one of them. These trucks are used in drayage (short haul service) and diesel trucks are a pollution nightmare when used for drayage applications. Having a massive concentration of them in a small area (Long Beach/LA) is a big problem. Plus, there is ample hydrogen production in the area so the usual challenge of fuel supply is not an issue in those particular locations. This does not make fuel cells a viable solution for long haul (though more viable than an electric truck).

“Two years ago, Toyota began secretly testing a hydrogen fuel cell system alternative to the conventional diesel powertrain for heavy Class-8 trucks. Called “Project Portal,” this system is intended for drayage (short-haul movements), shuttling shipping containers between Los Angeles and Long Beach ports plus other freight depots. Toyota is the first major car company to dip a toe in the fuel cell trucking waters, and it could eventually market the powertrains to various truck manufacturers nationwide or through its own Hino truck division. (Toyota used a Kenworth to demonstrate the powertrain; however, Hino does not make a Class-8 rig.)”

https://arstechnica.com/cars/2017/04/toyota-starts-project-portal-the-first-hydrogen-fuel-cell-tractor-trailer/

5)            Parents In Germany Face $26,500 Fine If They Don’t Destroy Controversial ‘My Friend Cayla’ Dolls

Actually it is not clear if the fine would actually every be levied. The idea is simply that the doll is essentially a listening device which sends data in violation of German privacy laws. That should be enough to destroy the things.

“After researchers found that My Friend Cayla dolls were recording users’ and sending this information out to a third party specializing in voice-recognition for police and military forces, officials in Germany told parents to get rid of the toys. In case families didn’t take that request seriously, the country’s telecommunications regulator has since clarified that parents who don’t destroy their Cayla dolls could face more than $25,000 in fines.”

https://consumerist.com/2017/04/14/parents-in-germany-face-26500-fine-if-they-dont-destroy-controversial-my-friend-cayla-dolls/

6)            Edible CRISPR Could Replace Antibiotics

I continue to consider the CRISPR gene editing system to one of the greatest discoveries in history. This approach applies CRISPR to a sort of antibiotic application: use bacteriophages (viruses which attack specific bacteria) to deliver a CRISPR self-destruct mechanism. Since the bacteria already have CRISPR as part of their “immune system” it is unlikely they will develop a resistance – assuming the approach works as expected. The good news is, with CRISPR we’ll know soon enough.

“Van Pijkeren’s idea is to use bacteriophage to send a false message to C. difficile, one that instead causes the bacteria to make lethal cuts to its own DNA. To do it, Van Pijkeren lab is developing bacteriophage capable of carrying a customized CRISPR message. On their own, the bacteriophage would quickly get broken down by stomach acid. So to get the viruses into a person, Van Pijkeren plans to add them to a cocktail of innocuous bacteria, or probiotic, that a person could swallow as a pill or a liquid.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/604126/edible-crispr-could-replace-antibiotics/

7)            Does Google’s TPU Investment Make Sense Going Forward?

We covered Google’s TPU announcement last week. If you recall, the device showed substantially better performance than contemporary GPUs and CPUs, which is very bad news for those who believe the future of AI is GPUs, and, in particular, NVidia’s stock price. This article seems to be an effort at damage control but it misses the point: inference is done thousands or millions of times more often than AI training. Most likely, the TPU chip itself cost less than $100, and the TPU board less than $500, or a fraction the cost of a GPU. Combine substantially lower costs, lower power consumption, and the fact it is proprietary and you have a winner.

“The question one has to ask is what did Google pay to develop the TPU and then have it manufactured. Yes, the TPU allowed it to save massive amounts of money not doing inference on CPUs, which are clearly not as good at it as specialized processors are. But so what? If a P4 accelerator card costs $2,100 and if the P40 accelerator costs $4,700, which we think are the approximate street prices for these devices, then Google has to be able to make its own chip cost no more than this on a cost per watt per unit of performance basis for the TPU to make economic sense – and it has to cost less than this, presumably. If Nvidia can double the performance of machine learning inference with the future “Volta” GPUs that will presumably be announced at the GPU Technical Conference in May and possibly shipping later this year for selected HPC customers and maybe for AI customers, then Nvidia V4 and V40 accelerators will be in the same league as a TPU gussied up with GDDR5 memory and moved to a slightly more aggressive process shrink to 20 nanometers.”

https://www.nextplatform.com/2017/04/12/googles-tpu-investment-make-sense-going-forward/

8)            Facebook Announces “Typing-by-Brain” Project

Brain-computer interfaces appear to have galvanized the attention of billionaires recently. Musk and Zuckerberg appear to have decided this is the next big thing. Unfortunately, actual specialists in the field seem to think what they want to do is, well, not likely, but who is gonna argue with a billionaire – they know everything, right? Of course another issue is, assuming somebody could, actually, make something which could read brainwaves, what healthy person would let Facebook see their thoughts?

“At its developer conference, Facebook executive Regina Dugan promised that this brain-computer interface will decode signals from the brain’s speech center at the remarkable rate of 100 words per minute. … The promise of 100 words per minute represents quite a leap from the current speed record. In February, Stanford researchers enabled a paralyzed patient to type 8 words per minute—and that was using a device implanted in his brain. In that experiment the implant was placed in the patient’s motor cortex, and he imagined moving a cursor over a screen to select letters.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/bionics/facebook-announces-typing-by-brain-project

9)            A Chinese warehouse reportedly cut its labor costs in half with a fleet of tiny robots

The sounds pretty frightening if you are a warehouse worker, but it is a lot less scary if you look into it. Essentially in this case the robots are taking the place of a second and third tier sorting conveyor belt (see a simple example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mMignhvXpc) . Presumably the labor costs savings are relative to doing it all by hand. Nonetheless the video is awesome.

“Shentong Express, a Chinese shipping company, showed off a mildly-dystopian automated warehouse last week that reportedly cut its labor costs by half, according to the South China Morning Post. In a video, tiny orange robots made by Hikvision ferry packages around an eastern China warehouse, taking each parcel from a human worker, driving under a scanner, and then dumping the package down a specific chute for it to be shipped.”

https://qz.com/961022/a-chinese-warehouse-reportedly-cut-its-labor-costs-in-half-with-a-fleet-of-tiny-robots/

10)        Uber lost $2.8 billion last year

I don’t get the part about reporting gross revenue since the company only gets their cut, or the net revenue. Even so Uber’s investors are subsidizing the service to the tune of $2B per year, meaning that Uber’s growth may continue only as long as it pays customers to use the service. More likely, the services itself else a tiny return on investment while the rest of the money is blown on stupid projects such as self-driving cars which meant to drive up the value of the shares. The company is a car service and car services are not inherently profitable. Nevertheless access to an unending supply of capital means the company is not run for profit’s sake.

“Uber’s gross bookings for 2016 hit $20 billion, more than doubling from the year prior, according to financial figures the company provided to Bloomberg. Its net revenue, after drivers took their cut, totaled $6.5 billion for the year. But that rapid growth came at a cost. Uber says it lost $2.8 billion in 2016, excluding the China business it sold midway through the year. Uber’s CEO had previously said it was losing $1 billion a year in China, prior to selling its China business to rival Didi Chuxing in August. … “We’re fortunate to have a healthy and growing business, giving us the room to make the changes we know are needed on management and accountability, our culture and organization, and our relationship with drivers,” Rachel Holt, Uber’s regional general manager for U.S. and Canada, said in a statement provided to CNNTech.”

http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/14/technology/uber-financials/index.html

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 14 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 14 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)            Printed titanium parts expected to save millions in Boeing Dreamliner costs

This is one of the few times I’ve seen direct figures associated with 3D printing in manufacturing. They are actually credible: titanium is expensive and hard to machine so keeping waste and machining to a minimum makes some sense – especially given the small production volumes in aircraft manufacture. If the material were aluminum, which is cheap and easy to cast and machine, it would almost certainly make no sense.

“Boeing Co hired Norsk Titanium AS to print the first structural titanium parts for its 787 Dreamliner, a shift that the Norwegian 3-D printing company said would eventually shave $2 million to $3 million off the cost of each plane. The contract announced on Monday is a major step in Boeing’s effort to boost the profitability of the 787 and a sign of growing industrial acceptance of the durability of 3-D printed metal parts, allowing them to replace pieces made with more expensive traditional manufacturing in demanding aerospace applications. Strong, lightweight titanium alloy is seven times more costly than aluminum, and accounts for about $17 million of the cost of a $265 million Dreamliner, industry sources say.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-norsk-boeing-idUSKBN17C264

2)            Roku TVs will eavesdrop on your shows to serve up ads

It is scarcely surprising Roku is doing this as consumers seem to long longer ascribe any value whatsoever to privacy. Besides, the US government is allowing ISPs to sell your browsing history (https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/28/house-vote-sj-34-isp-regulations-fcc/) so it really looks as though privacy is dead. This is not as benign as it seems: imagine if, in the 1960s, someone had proposed to record and sell the names of every book or newspaper article people read.

“Roku fans have another treat this week aside from getting Sling TV’s Cloud DVR functionality. Assuming you opt in, the latest software version (7.6) will use Automatic Content Recognition to listen to what broadcast programming you’re watching and suggest other stuff to watch based on that, as a way to “enhance” your couch potato session. “Additional viewing options may include the ability to watch from the beginning, watch more episodes of the same show and/or view suggestions for similar entertainment available to stream,” the section about Roku TVs reads.”

https://www.engadget.com/2017/04/11/roku-tvs-will-eavesdrop-on-your-shows-to-serve-up-ads/

3)            Delivery robots: a revolutionary step or sidewalk-clogging nightmare?

Delivery robots at least make some sense, unlike delivery drones. Frankly I find it hard to believe the streets and sidewalks would be clogged with them: if you think about it the goods being transported would be delivered through vans, delivery people, and so on, so there should not be an increase in traffic. Whether or not these make sense it is hard to believe the current examples of small, slow, electric robots would work outside of very specific applications such as a few blocks around a pizza parlor or grocery store in an urban setting.

“Sidewalk-traversing robots are one of several possible solutions to the pesky problem of “last-mile” logistics. Venture capitalists have poured millions into startups employing an army of independent contractors to provide instant gratification to urbanites. But the humans in this equation remain a significant cost, and innovators are looking to obviate them with automated solutions. Amazon, UPS, and Google are all working on an airborne method, which certainly makes for splashy PR stunts. But in cities, ground-based delivery services are a more practical solution. Drones simply don’t make sense for urban environments, said Matt Delaney, one of Marble’s three co-founders who called robots “the only sane solution”. He argued that delivery robots could improve quality of life for people like his grandfather, who lost his driver’s license and has to hire someone for tasks like picking up prescriptions at the pharmacy.”

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/12/delivery-robots-doordash-yelp-sidewalk-problems

4)            SLUMPING PC MARKET SHOWS A GLIMMER OF HOPE IN 1ST QUARTER

With memory prices skyrocketing, PC price/performance is almost certainly deteriorating. It is certainly possible the rate of decline in PC sales may slow because of, for example, an improving US economy, but the logical thing for buyers to do is postpone purchases for 6 months pending normalization of pricing. Regardless, it is hard to see a “glimmer of hope” in 1 % rise in unit sales.

“PC shipments in the first quarter rose by about 1 percent from last year, based on calculations from the research firm International Data Corp. The modest gain marks the first quarterly increase in five years, a stretch that has seen people increasingly turn to mobile devices for their computing needs. Another breakdown released by Gartner Inc. painted a gloomier picture. That research firm estimated PC shipments fell by 2 percent in the first quarter. The rival reports measure the market in different ways, accounting for their contrasting conclusions. Both IDC and Gartner concurred on this point: About the only signs of life are in the corporate market, where PCs remain an essential tool. Businesses have recently been replacing larger numbers of outdated machines.”

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_PC_SHIPMENTS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

5)            Half-baked security: Hackers can hijack your smart Aga oven ‘with a text message’

This is real amateur night at the zoo type stuff. I know because I’m working on an IoT application which uses emails as a control based on the eUpdate software I developed with I was a sell side analyst. At least with emails you don’t need a cloud intermediary. That said, this application is appallingly stupid: not only can you figure out the target address, the system is based on mobile phone technology, meaning it comes with a monthly fee.

“The vulnerable iTotal Control models of the upmarket cookers contain a SIM card and radio tech that connects to mobile phone networks. This allows the Brit-built roasters to receive texted commands: these messages can be sent directly to appliances from phones, or via an app or Aga’s website, from anywhere in the world. This means you can order your fancy baking oven to heat up before you leave from work, for instance. According to UK IT security consultants Pen Test Partners (PTP), this feature can be hijacked by villains to meddle with the slow cookers without the owners’ permission. The iTotal Control ovens pick up messages using a Tekelek-branded comms module and a GSM SIM card from UK cellular network EE – which costs £6 ($7.50) a month to keep active. Controlling an Aga by text is a rather odd approach because many of the hefty ovens are out in the sticks without decent cellular reception. The design was implemented by an Irish outfit called Action Point.”

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/04/13/aga_oven_iot_insecurity/

6)            Honda Miimo Robot Lawn Mower Comes to US

Honda makes some good lawn equipment but this is not likely to an example. Note that all the videos show the device essentially mowing a putting green rather than an actual lawn. The unit is battery powered meaning it probably could not mow more than a few square meters of actual lawn if it didn’t get stuck. I read somewhere that robot lawnmowers are a big market in Europe. I’m guessing that is because their lawns are only a few square meters. The idea is a good one, but the implementation is not. Don’t waste your money.

“Honda is bringing its robot lawn mowers to backyards in the United States starting in June 2017. Honda introduced two Miimo robot lawn mowers that will be available at select Honda Power Equipment dealerships nationwide, excluding California. The Miimo HRM 310 robot lawn mower ($2,499) can mow for up to 30 minutes on a single charge. It will recharge in 30 minutes and is designed for areas up a half acre. The Miimo HRM 520 robot lawn mower ($2,799) lasts a bit longer (60 minutes), takes an hour to charge and is designed for areas up to 0.75 acres. Battery life and cutting area are the main differences between the two models.”

http://www.roboticstrends.com/article/honda_miimo_robot_lawn_mower_coming_to_us

7)            Google benchmarks its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) chips

Artificial Intelligence/Deep Learning is one area of technology which is improving rapidly and has some valid uses even though most of the coverage surrounding it is complete fiction. The algorithms are relatively recent and tend to be run on Graphics Processors (GPUs) which are very good at certain types of processing. This has led investors to bid up GU company stocks, even though those companies are mostly in the business of supplying gamers. Typically what happens as new algorithms are developed is that hardware is crafted which runs those algorithms optimally. That is why GPUs and DSPs were developed. Within a few years AI will not be run on GPUs but on AI/DL accelerators which may or may not be incorporated into other CPUs.

“In Google’s tests, a Haswell Xeon E5-2699 v3 processor with 18 cores running at 2.3 GHz using 64-bit floating point math units was able to handle 1.3 Tera Operations Per Second (TOPS) and delivered 51 GB/sec of memory bandwidth; the Haswell chip consumed 145 watts and its system (which had 256 GB of memory) consumed 455 watts when it was busy. The TPU, by comparison, used 8-bit integer math and access to 256 GB of host memory plus 32 GB of its own memory was able to deliver 34 GB/sec of memory bandwidth on the card and process 92 TOPS – a factor of 71X more throughput on inferences, and in a 384 watt thermal envelope for the server that hosted the TPU.”

https://www.nextplatform.com/2017/04/05/first-depth-look-googles-tpu-architecture/

8)            Broadcasters Put New Ad-Skipping Restrictions on YouTube TV

You can certainly understand the desire by broadcasters to make their ads un-skippable: there was an effort a few years ago to make DVR ad skip illegal. However that immediately reduces the attractiveness of a DVR. I typically DVR the news so I can skip all the garbage (celebrities, sports, talking heads, propaganda) and watch it in about 25% of the time. If this idea takes hold I’d be forced to watch as much advertising as content.

“YouTube last week launched YouTube TV in a handful of markets (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, and Philadelphia), providing access to more than 50 live TV channels for $35 per month. And while Google and YouTube are hoping that the company’s new YouTube TV live streaming service makes waves in the streaming space, the inability to skip commercials may annoy some potential customers. If a show is available on-demand, viewers won’t be able to skip ads, even if they recorded the episode on DVR notes the Wall Street Journal.”

http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Broadcasters-Put-New-AdSkipping-Restrictions-on-YouTube-TV-139352

9)            NASA Finds Evidence of Hydrothermal Vents on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

This is big news and not entirely unsurprising. The fact there is liquid water and geothermal activity vastly increases the odds these bodies harbor life. After all, life emerged on Earth shortly after it was possible to sustain life on Earth, suggesting abiogenesis is a highly probable outcome rather than an extremely rare event. Since the plumes from Enceladus go out into space, and any such plume would likely carry simple life forms if any existed it should not be that difficult to go out and take a sample and return it to Earth.

“Once they knew there was a large ocean and likely a rocky core, the team speculated that if the moon is warm enough for liquid water, then it might have enough geologic activity for hydrothermal vents. And if there are vents, then there could be life—even out in the distant solar system almost a billion miles from the sun. Now we have reason to believe there are indeed hydrothermal vents on the watery moon Enceladus. “What we have is this chain of evidence, not just one thing but a number of things that point toward the very real possibility of these hydrothermal vents,” says Spilker. Most of that evidence came from the flybys Cassini made through Enceladus’s geysers. The craft used two science instruments, the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) and Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS), to analyze samples from the plumes. Sure enough, the spacecraft picked up clues that point to hydrothermal vents.”

http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/solar-system/news/a26044/cassini-evidence-hydrothermal-vents-enceladus/

10)        What Apple vs Qualcomm could mean for the iPhone’s future

Qualcomm actually makes some pretty nice chips even though a lot of its financial performance is associated with royalties it claims from increasingly out of date Intellectual Property. It is pretty clear that smartphone sales are flat/declining and prices are headed down. As a general rule you don’t keep making more and more money out of a declining market: there is going to be pushback. In this case, being sued by your biggest customer is a bad sign. Mind you Qualcomm’s bizarre decisions to acquire NXP Semiconductor for $47B makes me think they’ve gone off the deep end: it’s a bit like Intel deciding to get into the virus scanner business (which they did).

“Furthermore, Qualcomm levies a licensing fee on Apple regardless if its chips are used in a phone. This means Apple pays Qualcomm once to license its patents and pays again to purchase Qualcomm’s silicon. For comparison, most component suppliers bundle their intellectual property license fee with the sale of their chips. Apple isn’t the only one upset with Qualcomm. The San Diego-based company has come under fire in recent years for monopolistic practices. Just two years ago, Qualcomm paid $975 million to China for anti-competitive practices. In December 2016, Qualcomm was hit with a $873 million fine in South Korea for the same thing. Then in January this year, Qualcomm was charged with anti-competitive practices in the US by the Federal Trade Commission.”

http://www.techradar.com/news/what-apple-vs-qualcomm-could-mean-for-the-iphones-future

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 7 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 7 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 and top Android partners agree to share software patents

Patent exchange agreements are common in the semiconductor and automotive businesses since pretty much everybody is infringing somebody’s patents. They have no effect on patent trolls because they typically do not make anything so, under US law they are in a low risk situation. Besides, the biggest Android patent troll is Microsoft and that is not going to change.

“Google and a group of top Android phone makers have sealed a new agreement to collectively defend themselves against patent lawsuits. The group, which also includes Samsung, LG, and HTC, have agreed to share patents covering “Android and Google Applications” on any device that meets Android’s compatibility requirements. The patents will be shared for free, and the group is supposed to be free and open for any company to join. The agreement’s proper name is the “Android Networked Cross-License,” but the group is calling it PAX for short. “Pax” means “peace” in Latin, and Google says the agreement is about reaching a legal peace within the tech world.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/3/15164556/pax-google-samsung-htc-lg-patent-peace-group

2)            The DIY electronics transforming research

Arduinos and Raspberry Pis are completely different animals. The former is a pretty capable microcontroller which has a user friendly – though not exactly developer friendly – development tool. Raspberry Pi is a far more capable Linux based microcomputer which definitely doesn’t have any user friendliness (as with most Linux things). Both are very broadly supported, which means there is an immense amount of open source software available for them. Alas, that quality of the software is often not very well written but good enough to get things going.

“Although researchers have been customizing computers and integrating them into their experiments for decades, the market for small, cheap, ‘single-board computers’ has boomed in recent years. The Raspberry Pi — a fully fledged computer that can run the Linux operating system — appeared in 2012; by September 2016, 10 million had been sold. Arduinos — technically, programmable microcontrollers rather than computers — have been similarly popular since their launch in 2005. Off-the-shelf accessories for these devices include cameras, motion sensors, thermometers and Bluetooth adaptors. There’s even an all-in-one system developed for an outreach project on the International Space Station; the system combines a gyroscope, an accelerometer, a magnetometer and sensors to measure temperature, barometric pressure and humidity.”

http://www.nature.com/news/the-diy-electronics-transforming-research-1.21768?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews

3)            IoT garage door opener maker bricks customer’s product after bad review

It is funny that a trivial product such as this would have garnered so much financial backing, but what can you say? This is yet another example of why you want to be very careful of most IoT products: most require a connection to a cloud server and if the vendor stops supporting the product – or doesn’t like you anymore – your product stops working. In this case the business did something which is pretty unwise but regardless you should realize that if the money runs out (which it often does) everybody’s garage door opener ends up being “bricked”.

“Denis Grisak, the man behind the Internet-connected garage opener Garadget, is having a very bad week. Grisak and his Colorado-based company SoftComplex launched Garadget, a device built using Wi-Fi-based cloud connectivity from Particle, on Indiegogo earlier this year, hitting 209 percent of his launch goal in February. But this week, his response to an unhappy customer has gotten Garadget a totally different sort of attention. On April 1, a customer who purchased Garadget on Amazon using the name R. Martin reported problems with the iPhone application that controls Garadget. He left an angry comment on the Garadget community board … At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036… will be denied server connection.”

https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/04/iot-garage-door-opener-maker-bricks-customers-product-after-bad-review/

4)            GM Hooking 30,000 Robots to Internet to Keep Factories Humming

I’m guess the end points for employment are carefully chose as GM was coming out of a financial crisis, but the fact is that while robots may shift employment away from rote manufacturing tasks and into other sectors there has been a tremendous benefit to automation, starting from the industrial revolution 200 years ago. Hype and hysteria to the contrary there is no reason to believe that will change any time soon.

“GM has increased its new U.S. robot applications by 10,000 since 2012 while boosting U.S. employment by almost a third to 105,000, according to a report by the Association for Advancing Automation that argues robots help create jobs.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-04/gm-hooking-30-000-robots-to-internet-to-keep-factories-humming

5)            Apple To Develop Own GPU, Drop Imagination’s GPUs From SoCs

This plays out too often: a small company “wins” Apple as a customer and, being Apple, it immediately becomes its largest customer. The supplier then ramps up its operation, including R&D in order to scale to Apple’s needs. At the same time it dedicates fewer resources to other customers. Eventually judgement day arrives: Apple switches suppliers or, as in this case, decides to go it alone. Few companies can survive a stepwise loss of 50% of revenues and it collapses. I’m not sure if there is anything the small company can do before, during, or after this unfolds but it happens with regularity.

“In a bombshell of a press release issued this morning, Imagination has announced that Apple has informed their long-time GPU partner that they will be winding down their use of Imagination’s IP. Specifically, Apple expects that they will no longer be using Imagination’s IP for new products in 15 to 24 months. Furthermore the GPU design that replaces Imagination’s designs will be, according to Imagination, “a separate, independent graphics design.” In other words, Apple is developing their own GPU, and when that is ready, they will be dropping Imagination’s GPU designs entirely.”

http://www.anandtech.com/show/11243/apple-developing-custom-gpu-dropping-imagination

6)            Why Intel Insists Rumors Of The Demise Of Moore’s Law Are Greatly Exaggerated

Unfortunately driving down the cost of a transistor while not offering much in the way of incremental performance is exactly what Intel doesn’t want: people upgrade computers in order to get significantly better performance, otherwise they simply use it until it breaks. Under Intel’s scenario their production cost might go down but demand will go down faster, and they’ll end up selling for less money.

“But while the 1990s and early aughts were a period of rapid growth in processing power due to innovations in process technology and microarchitecture, Moore’s law in itself does not weigh in on any particular performance improvement. “Just to go back to the original papers by Gordon Moore, his prediction was that transistor density would double every two years. He didn’t make any statement about performance,” Bohr says. Still, aren’t more powerful processors the point of this whole exercise? Not exactly. The real benefit of Moore’s law is to drive down the cost per transistor at a consistent rate. This does allow Intel to improve performance by adding more transistors as a way of improving performance, but it also just decreases the cost to produce new products. While Intel doesn’t disclose its exact cost per transistor, the company points out that cost declines are the same now as they were under the tick-tock cycle. And yes, there’s a graph to prove it.”

https://www.fastcompany.com/40401818/moores-law-survives-but-its-not-what-it-used-to-be

7)            Japan Finally Recognizes Bitcoin After Long Battle

I admit to being a bit perplexed by this. Perhaps the term “legal currency” is misused in the article or the government of Japan is unconcerned about money marketing, use by criminals, or the massive frauds which have taken place in the cryptocurrency world. Or perhaps they don’t care.

“A bill to amend Japan’s Banking Act has finally come to fruition, recognizing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as legal tender. The bill has far-reaching repercussions for the digital currency world as well as the way that cryptocurrencies can be traded and exchanged. The Banking Act was modified after a long process of debate and dialog which saw proponents of digital currencies arguing on their behalf. Now, after months of discussion, the bill has come into effect as of the beginning of April. Section 3 of the bill has been modified to including wording on virtual currency and is being called the Virtual Currency Act, according to reporting by Brave New Coin. Digital currencies like Bitcoin have finally received definition and recognition as a means of payment by the Japanese government.”

http://www.investopedia.com/news/japan-finally-recognizes-bitcoin-after-long-battle/

8)            Richmond firm backed by VC Tim Draper plans to fly test versions of giant amphibious cargo drone over San Pablo Bay this summer

This is not as dumb an idea as it seems. It is not that much more complicated to fly a large drone as a small one such as a predator drone. You can simplify the aircraft considerably if you don’t need life support or to worry about human safety and the safety concerns regarding flying over populated areas are no longer an issue if the aircraft stays over international waters. The major problem would be development costs: most cargo aircraft are repurposed passenger planes so the R&D cost is spread over a much large number of units. Mind you there might be a large enough market for cargo drones of this type. Still, I’d expect Boeing and Airbus to lead the market.

“The intended end product for Natilus is a cargo drone the size of a jetliner that takes off and lands on water, carrying goods from port to port. To keep down the regulatory burden, and avoid the need for infrastructure such as airports, the drones would fly over uninhabited ocean areas and below Federal Aviation Administration-controlled airspace. They’d land 12 miles from a port and be piloted in remotely, according to the company. Natilus claims its planned cargo drone, built using carbon fiber composites, would cost $20 million, less than a tenth of the cost of a passenger jetliner.”

http://www.siliconbeat.com/2017/03/28/richmond-firm-backed-by-vc-tim-draper-plans-to-fly-test-versions-of-giant-amphibious-cargo-drone-over-san-pablo-bay-this-summer/?doing_wp_cron=1491408907.3982880115509033203125

9)            ‘Super’ Wi-Fi may finally be coming your way

This has been discusses for many years and, quite frankly, it might be too little too late. Despite the name ‘Super’ Wi-Fi has nothing to do with Wi-Fi, it is just a broadband technology which uses the unused spectrum between TV channels. There are advantages to that approach but the thing is that LTE technology has dropped in price a lot and delivers pretty good performance over a wide selection of spectrum. 5G wireless is maybe two years out and while the focus has been on very short range millimeter bands the technology can also be applied to lower frequencies as well.

“Super Wi-Fi “fills a gap that nothing else can fill,” said Ken Garnett, chief technology officer at Shingle Springs-based Cal.net, which provides internet access wirelessly to surrounding rural areas east of Sacramento. “It enables us to provide service to those who cannot get service otherwise.” What gives Super Wi-Fi such great potential is that it’s transmitted over the same portion of the airwaves that are used by television broadcasters. Compared to regular Wi-Fi or even most cellular transmissions, signals sent in the TV band can travel much longer distances. They can go through walls, trees and other barriers that can thwart other types of signals. And because the spectrum is regulated and largely reserved for television signals, Super Wi-Fi transmissions don’t have to contend with interference from random devices like microwaves or cordless phones, as do signals in other wireless bands.”

http://www.siliconvalley.com/2017/03/30/super-wi-fi-may-finally-be-coming-your-way/

10)        Africa’s Exploding Tech Startup Ecosystem

Talk of a renaissance might be a bit much because Africa has never really had much in the way of technology, let alone home-made technology companies. There is no reason why Africa should not produce technologies: there are plenty of intelligent people in every country. Nevertheless, it would certainly be accelerated by improved infrastructure and things like reliable and available Internet services and electricity.

“Africa is home to the fastest growing cities, and more than half of the world’s population growth will take place on the continent over the coming decades. By 2050, cities like Lagos and Kinshasa will be global megacities, each holding well over 30 million inhabitants. Africa is also at the start of a technological renaissance. It was recently reported by WeAreSocial that 7 of 10 of the world’s fastest growing internet populations are in Africa – the beginning of a trend that will likely re-shape entire economies as new companies leapfrog established technology, ideas, and infrastructure. That said, much of that opportunity lies in the future. As of today, internet penetration is just 29% throughout Africa, meaning that the majority of growth and network effects are still to come.”

http://fiscalpost.com/2017/04/africas-exploding-tech-startup-ecosystem/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 31 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 31 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)            Uber suspends self-driving car program after Arizona crash

It turns out that the collision, which was the worst ever for a self-driving car (except the Tesla fatalities which appeared to happen because the drivers thought they were in a self-driving car). Nonetheless, there are dozens of examples caught on video of Uber’s self-driving cars doing things like going through red lights, a number of which were caught on camera. In this case the car sped through a yellow light and hit a car making a left hand turn into its lane. Based on Uber’s track record I would not be surprised if next time it’s even worse.

“Uber Technologies Inc suspended its pilot program for driverless cars on Saturday after a vehicle equipped with the nascent technology crashed on an Arizona roadway, the ride-hailing company and local police said. The accident, the latest involving a self-driving vehicle operated by one of several companies experimenting with autonomous vehicles, caused no serious injuries, Uber said. Even so, the company said it was grounding driverless cars involved in a pilot program in Arizona, Pittsburgh and San Francisco pending the outcome of investigation into the crash on Friday evening in Tempe.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-uber-tech-crash-idUSKBN16W0UZ

2)            SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket relaunch: start time, live stream, and what to expect

I give them credit: they managed to do it. The thing is, SpaceX’s record is already pretty poor when it comes to destroying payloads and the customer is keen on not destroying payloads because they are very, very expensive and it usually takes a long time to replace them. So if the price is 30% lower but the risk is higher customers have to decide if they want to be penny wise and pound foolish.

“Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company is going to take another swing at history today: for the first time, SpaceX plans to take a Falcon 9 rocket that successfully launched and landed in April 2016 and try to launch it to space once again. … Ideally, this is a proof-of-concept for reusing rockets, one of Elon Musk’s main goals for SpaceX. By recovering each rocket after launch instead of discarding it, Musk hopes to cut the cost of a rocket launch by millions of dollars. This could eventually allow SpaceX to offer launches at a 30 percent discount, which is a huge advantage in the tiny but hyper-competitive space launch market.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/3/30/15114044/spacex-launch-live-stream-start-time-schedule-used-falcon-9-rocket

3)            Paralysed man moves arm using power of thought in world first

This technology is still in its early stages but it is evolving rapidly. It only works in the lab but that is to be expected given that researchers lack the expertise and financial resources to miniaturize the systems fully. I imagine the impact on the life of those affected is profound despite the limited capabilities they demonstrate here. Expect big things over the next 10 years.

“A man who was paralysed from below the neck after crashing his bike into a truck can once again drink a cup of coffee and eat mashed potato with a fork, after a world-first procedure to allow him to control his hand with the power of thought. Bill Kochevar, 53, has had electrical implants in the motor cortex of his brain and sensors inserted in his forearm, which allow the muscles of his arm and hand to be stimulated in response to signals from his brain, decoded by computer. After eight years, he is able to drink and feed himself without assistance.”

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/28/neuroprosthetic-tetraplegic-man-control-hand-with-thought-bill-kochevar

4)            ESPN Has Seen the Future of TV and They’re Not Really Into It

A lot of the subscriber losses at ESPN are actually people “cutting the cord” and dropping cable service in general. Some – perhaps many – of those may actually want ESPN but the company’s revenue stream, like many cable companies, is based on them getting $7 per cable subscriber whether the subscriber wants ESPN or not. On a “pick and play” basic, fees would be more like $30/subscriber or more. I find it strange Google has bundled EPSN with their streaming service and I’d be surprised if all other such services do so, especially since a major reason for “cutting the cord” is the high prices due to the “take it or leave it” cable TV pricing model.

“As subscribers leave the network, and often cable altogether, ESPN is stuck with rising costs for the rights to broadcast games. Programming costs will top $8 billion in 2017, according to media researcher Kagan. Most of that money goes to rights fees through deals that extend into the next decade. Last year profits from Disney’s cable networks, of which ESPN is the largest, fell for the first time in 14 years. The dip was small, about half a percent, but nonetheless alarming. Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at BTIG Research, says ESPN has been “over-earning,” with cable customers paying for the channel as part of their subscription bundle, whether they watch it or not. “It’s pretty clear that the years of over-earning are going to end,” says Greenfield, who’s made a name for himself as an ESPN naysayer. “The question is does it end slowly or fast.””

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-03-30/espn-has-seen-the-future-of-tv-and-they-re-not-really-into-it

5)            Smartphones may be to blame for unprecedented spike in pedestrian deaths

When I saw the headline I thought for a moment somebody finally realized that “distracted walking” is dangerous, but, alas, this is another article about distracted drivers. Distracted driving is probably a cause of some or even most of the fatalities but I’ve come close to running down idiots crossing the street while looking at their phones more than once.

“A new report estimates that in 2016, the United States saw its largest annual increase in pedestrian fatalities since such record keeping began 40 years ago. … The Governors Highway Safety Association estimated there were 6,000 pedestrian deaths in 2016, the highest number in more than 20 years. Since 2010, pedestrian fatalities have grown at four times the rate of overall traffic deaths. “The why is elusive. We don’t know all the reasons,” Retting said. “Clearly lots of things are contributing. But not one of these other factors have changed dramatically.” The thing that has changed dramatically in recent years is smartphone use. The volume of wireless data used from 2014 to 2015 more than doubled, according to the Wireless Association.”

http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/30/technology/pedestrian-safety-smartphones/

6)            Intel Warns Partners: Expect Tight SSD Supply Through 2017, With Shipment Priority On Data Center SSDs

It’s not real news that memory prices (DRAM and flash)have “firmed” as they do every 5 years or so. This cycle is a bit different because it includes, and is associated with demand for both DRAM and flash at the same time. To me this is the ultimate “head fake” for the Hard Disk industry: SSD shortages means HDD sales are collapsing as quickly as expected and stock have rallied strongly. The thing is, whatever you read, memory prices are going to start trending down at some point in the future and when that happens SSD prices will essentially collapse, taking the HDD industry with them.

“The SSD shortage stems from a combination of fast-growing demand for SSDs as the per-gigabyte price falls closer to that of slower-performing spinning hard disks, and a transition by manufacturers of NAND memory, the key component in SSDs, toward 3D NAND technology, according to multiple industry sources. … The delays are already impacting shipments to major customers, the solution provider said. “One of our government customers wants servers with SSDs but has been delayed multiple times,” the solution provider said. “We checked with a major competitor, and found the same. So we feel this is an industrywide challenge.” The solution provider said about 50 percent of new sales have shifted from hard drive-based storage to SSDs. “New technologies like deduplication and compression are helping drive demand,” the solution provider said. “And hyper-converged infrastructure works better with all-flash architectures.””

http://www.crn.com/news/data-center/300084309/intel-warns-partners-expect-tight-ssd-supply-through-2017-with-shipment-priority-on-data-center-ssds.htm

7)            Speck-Size Computers: Now With Deep Learning

There are two main phases to deep learning: training and doing. Right now both are done at data centers due to the computational demands of dealing with as deep learning array. That will change and “doing” will eventually done by the client (i.e. a smartphone or PC). It may take a while but the current GPU approach – which has stoked so much excitement around NVIDIA – will be displaced by purpose built accellerators.

“Another micromote they presented at ISSCC incorporates a deep-learning processor that can operate a neural network while using just 288 microwatts. Neural networks are artificial intelligence algorithms that perform well at tasks such as face and voice recognition. They typically demand both large memory banks and intense processing power, and so they’re usually run on banks of servers often powered by advanced GPUs. Some researchers have been trying to lessen the size and power demands of deep-learning AI with dedicated hardware that’s specially designed to run these algorithms. But even those processors still use over 50 milliwatts of power—far too much for a micromote. The Michigan group brought down the power requirements by redesigning the chip architecture, for example by situating four processing elements within the memory (in this case, SRAM) to minimize data movement.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/processors/specksize-computers-now-with-deep-learning

8)            We need a New Deal to address the economic risks of automation

Fears over automation is stoking anxiety among millennials, pretty much as it has done for every generation since the start of the industrial revolution. There is nothing significantly different about now vs prior “generations” of automation if you bother to investigate the subject. Where are all the farm workers who have been unemployed by tractors and combines; machinists unemployed by NC milling machines; bank tellers unemployed by ATMs; and keypunch operators unemployed by terminals and PCs? Automation means greater productivity and it is a major reason for improvements in the standards of living in the industrialized world since the 1800s. There is absolutely no difference between all hose prior cycles and what will happen in the next 20 or 100 years.

“There’s been downward pressure on jobs since the Industrial Revolution due to leaps in productivity brought about by human ingenuity and lucky discoveries. This has accelerated since the ’80s with the mass adoption of computers, but the market has more or less kept up, creating new openings to fill the eradicated ones, albeit not in the same places (coastal cities have gained, Rust Belt areas have lost out). However, we have a tsunami on the horizon: automation using AI. It will place intense downward pressure on employment, and threatens to catch a generation (really, three generations) off guard, with unemployment levels higher than the Great Depression.”

https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/31/we-need-a-new-deal-to-address-the-economic-risks-of-automation/

9)            IBM Bets The Company On Cloud, AI And Blockchain

Based on IBM’s financial performance and aptitude for blowing money on acquisitions, I’d say as gamblers they are not so good. While they have great engineers their management can’t seem to monetise what they have. Even their engineering talent is probably sparse as new graduates do look upon IBM as the sort of place they want to work. With respect to cloud services and AI, well, they aren’t the only name in the games and it is hard to imagine companies who are not IBM customers in the first place going to IBM for this. That is doubly true for startups.

“IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty laid out IBM’s strategy at a packed keynote. “The IBM Cloud is the platform for the next era of business,” Rometty said, expressing the central theme of the keynote. The IBM Cloud combines the Cloud Foundry-based Bluemix Platform-as-a-Service environment with SoftLayer, IBM’s public Infrastructure-as-a-Service Cloud. But the key to IBM’s Cloud strategy is its reliance on AI. “IBM Cloud is cognitive at the core,” according to Rometty. “You’re going to want a cloud that has a full range of cognitive capabilities.””

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbloomberg/2017/03/22/ibm-bets-the-company-on-cloud-ai-and-blockchain/#540f6fd6776d

10)        ‘Supermassive’ black hole rocketing through space at five million miles an hour, Nasa reveals

This is pretty amazing if for nothing more than the amount of energy involved to move a mass as big as a supermassive black hole at this speed. The article explains how that happened, but it is not any less amazing.

“Their observations confirmed the Hubble finding. They also helped pin down the black hole’s mass (equal to that of a billion suns) and the speed at which the gas around it was travelling (4.7 million mph). Meanwhile, the Hubble image offered a clue about what dislodged the black hole from its galaxy’s centre. The host galaxy bore faint, arc-shaped features called tidal tales, which are produced by the gravitational tug-of-war that takes place when two galaxies collide. This suggested that galaxy 3C 186 had recently merged with another system, and perhaps their black holes merged too.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/nasa-supermassive-black-hole-discovery-a7650656.html?

 

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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 24 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)            Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware

I have 3 tractors and, lucky for me, they run perfectly well without even a battery. Larger equipment tends to require a lot of computers for emissions controls as well as advanced functions such as auto-steer (which helps you line up your machinery for maximum efficiency) and other functions. Companies like Deere have found this is a great segue for keeping tinkerers and independent repair shops from touching any part of “their” tractors. Many farmers have a limited choice of equipment vendors and risk their crop if they can’t get a timely repair. Oddly enough Deere’s approach is legal.

“To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America’s heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that’s cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums. Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform “unauthorized” repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time. “When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don’t have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it,” Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. “Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix].”|

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/why-american-farmers-are-hacking-their-tractors-with-ukrainian-firmware

2)            IBM unveils Blockchain as a Service based on open source Hyperledger Fabric technology

Just to be clear this is generic blockchain technology, not Bitcoin, which is a particular implementation of blockchain. Given increased interest in the use of the technology by banks and other large institutions – which are IBM’s traditional customers – this makes a lot of sense. Of course there is nothing whatsoever to stop Amazon, Microsoft, and Google from offering exactly the same thing.

“IBM Blockchain is a public cloud service that customers can use to build secure blockchain networks. The company introduced the idea last year, but this is the first ready-for-primetime implementation built using that technology. The blockchain is a notion that came into the public consciousness around 2008 as a way to track bitcoin digital-currency transactions. At its core blockchain is a transparent and tamper-proof digital ledger. Just as it could track bitcoin’s activity in a secure and transparent fashion, it’s capable of tracking other types of data in private blockchain networks. This could allow any private company or government agency to set up a trusted network, which would allow the members to share information freely, knowing that only the members could see it, and the information couldn’t be altered once it’s been entered.”

https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/19/ibm-unveils-blockchain-as-a-service-based-on-open-source-hyperledger-fabric-technology/

3)            Intel claims storage speed record with first large-capacity Optane SSD

Optane, also known as 3D Crosspoint memory is rapidly becoming a disappointment. The article sure sounds bullish but the speed advantages are in very specific use cases. It is also wroth noting that the “older” Intel drive they are comparing it too has been on the market for 3 years and the past 3 years have seen a lot of improvement in the SSD arena. I remain hopeful Intel will eventually justify at least some of the hype around Optane but so far they really haven’t shown anything to justify it.

“The first large-capacity Optane SSD drive is the DC P4800X, which has 375GB of storage and started shipping on Sunday. The $1,520 SSD is targeted at servers. (Intel didn’t provide regional availability information.) … In a nutshell, Intel said that if you run sequential tasks, it would be better to use conventional SSDs. Optane lights up when running random reads and writes, which are common in servers and high-end PCs. Optane’s random writes reach up to 10 times faster compared to conventional SSDs, but only when utilization is being pushed to extremes, while reads are around three times faster. In a standard 4K data block, with 70 percent read and 30 percent write, the P4800X was five to eight times faster than the older P3700. The responsiveness of the drive increased with the data load.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/3182547/storage/intel-claims-storage-speed-record-with-first-large-capacity-optane-ssd.html

4)            What Happens If Uber Fails?

This is the sort of article you see when valuation bubbles are getting long it the tooth, except in this case the author seems to acknowledge it is a bubble. The trope is that, while one or two companies may have suffered down rounds the party will go on for all the companies that haven’t imploded yet. What tends to happen in real life is that investors shake off a few disappointments until some ill-defined critical mass happens and they have a collective “what was I thinking” moment which leads to a rush for the exits. Unfortunately, unless you have the good fortune of selling your stock to the unsuspecting public through an IPO, for most Unicorn investors there will be no exit.

“But how much is the tech industry’s fate actually wrapped up in Uber’s? If Uber implodes, will the bubble finally pop? It’s a question that’s full of assumptions: Uber’s fate is uncertain, and nobody really knows what kind of bubble we’re in right now. Yet it’s a question still worth teasing apart. Trillions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and the future of technology all hang in the balance. “These bubbles swing back and forth in fear and greed,” McGrath told me, “and when Uber stumbles, it triggers fear. Part of this bubble is created basically in a low-interest-rate environment. Money from all over the world is pouring into this sector because it has nowhere else to go.” This is a key point—perhaps the key point that will determine whether Uber lives or dies. Uber isn’t worth $70 billion because it is actually worth $70 billion. Its valuation is that high despite the fact that it’s not profitable, and despite the fact that it has little protection from competitors baked into what it is and does. Uber’s valuation, in other words, is a reflection of the global marketplace and not a reflection of Uber’s own durability as a company.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/03/uber/520302/

5)            T-Mobile busy testing 5G but not on the fixed wireless bandwagon: CTO

Of course he doesn’t believe in fixed wireless: he’s a mobile operator! It is true that range is bound to be pretty poor at 28 GHz but 5G technologies like MIMO and Beam Forming are not confined to particular spectrum. The real advantage is regulatory: there is loads of unlicensed spectrum which can be exploited by ISPs for the last 100 meters to the customer. Plus in the US wireless is federally regulated, and state and local laws shielding wireline ISPs from competition will not affect 5G ISPs.

“T-Mobile US CTO Neville Ray reiterated his disdain for the fixed wireless 5G model that Verizon has been pursuing—saying at this point in time, “I am not a huge believer” in that model—but that doesn’t mean T-Mobile is sitting idle when it comes to 5G. Speaking at the Citi European & Emerging Telecoms Conference in London on Tuesday, Ray said T-Mobile is testing 5G and he believes there’s a lot of potential for true innovation in the wireless industry, including with things related to virtual reality and eyewear, but mobility won’t come in earnest until the next decade. “We’ve done a huge volume of 5G testing, we have 5G radio, 28 GHz, all those pieces,” he said. “We’re trialing, testing, doing all the things,” he added, noting Verizon announced some larger scale trials this year.”

http://www.fiercewireless.com/tech/t-mobile-busy-testing-5g-but-not-fixed-wireless-bandwagon-cto

6)            Average PC DRAM Contract Price Jumped Over 20% Sequentially in October with 4GB Modules Coming to US$17.5, Says TrendForce

With DRAM, Flash, and SSD prices trending up (as are, apparently, displays) PC prices and features are bound to be impacted. This is bound to be traumatic for consumers used to continuous improvements in price/performances. Don’t worry it will be a temporary affect: the memory vendors will add a lot of capacity and price will drop even faster than usual in a year or so.

“DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, reports the average contract price of 4GB PC DRAM modules increased over 20% between September and October from US$14.5 to US$17.5 as DRAM suppliers completed their fourth-quarter contract negotiations with first-tier PC-OEMs. Spot prices of DDR3 and DDR4 4Gb chips also rose 17% to 24% respectively in October compared with the prior month to US$2.46 and US$2.48 on average. This strong showing indicates that the DRAM market outlook is rosy and further price increases are expected in the future. “From the supply side, PC DRAM currently accounts for less than 20% of the total output from the global DRAM industry because suppliers are focusing on the mobile and server DRAM markets,” said Avril Wu, research manager of DRAMeXchange. “From the demand side, branded device makers have fairly low DRAM inventories while facing higher-than-expected demand in the busy season. Hence, prices of PC DRAM have risen sharply in the recent period.””

http://press.trendforce.com/press/20161102-2677.html#EFRZdPoLvKZaUOO6.99

7)            Apple says recent Wikileaks CIA docs detail old, fixed iPhone and Mac exploits

In case you missed it surprise, surprise, surprise Apple products are vulnerable to hacking. If you believe current products have all the backdoors patched I have some swampland in Florida to sell you.

“As any security expert will tell you, once you gain physical access to a device, nearly all bets are off. Remote intrusion is a much more real and dangerous threat to the security of either end users or company-wide systems. Basically if you have the device in hand and all the time in the world it’s just a matter of plugging away. That said, Apple’s devices have been engineered to be particularly resilient to even in-person attacks. Which is why the CIA docs garnered attention by the press and users today. To wrap — these appear to be older exploits but government agencies are always seeking new vectors and likely have new methods in place already that Apple is or will be patching out as soon as they are disclosed by researchers or disclosed by legal discovery.”

https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/23/apple-says-recent-wikileaks-cia-docs-detail-old-fixed-iphone-and-mac-exploits/

8)            Theranos investors who pledge not to sue get Elizabeth Holmes’ shares for free

This is so funny it has to be true. The deal is apparently to the “investors” in the last round of financing who, presumably, were sold a pig in a poke. It turns out that, choosing my words carefully, there wasn’t much there there. Now, why somebody would want shares of Theranos for free is beyond me, especially since that is roughly what they are worth. The advantage to the people behind the company is pretty obvious: no lawsuit and therefore no legal discovery. It all just goes away.

“Theranos CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes is planning to give up some of her personal shares to investors who pledge not to sue the disgraced blood-testing company, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deals would only involve investors from the last round of funding, which ended in 2015 and brought in more than $600 million. These investors include the family of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the family behind Walmart stores, and John Elkann, who controls Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Investors could get about two free shares of the company for every share they bought. The deals would also mean that Holmes could lose her majority stake in Theranos.”

https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/03/theranos-investors-who-pledge-not-to-sue-get-elizabeth-holmes-shares-for-free/

9)            KABOOM! Incredible moment rockets fizz across a Ukrainian city after an arms warehouse packed with ammunition and weapons was ‘bombed by a drone’

I don’t know how reliable the Daily Mail is in general but BBC is reporting the same thing as suspicions (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39363416). It certainly makes sense: as I’ve written before consumer grade drones are perfectly capable of dropping bombs and have been used by ISIS for doing exactly that. Whether or not this particular attack was carried out by one it is a matter of time before the things are used for this purpose.

“Last night, Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said authorities were considering a theory that the fire was caused by ‘explosive devices dropped from an unmanned aerial vehicle’.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4346328/Clips-blast-Ukrainian-arms-depot-bombed-drone.html

10)        Intel Forms New AI Group Reporting Directly To CEO Brian Krzanich

If I were NVIDIA I would have expected this day. NVIDIA’s stock has done really well over AI-related excitement even though their financials are mostly associated with gamers and PC applications. AI researchers used GPUs because they happen to be good at the sort of calculations used in AI even though they are very expensive and not particularly power efficient. It is a matter of time before Intel and others incorporate “AI Accelerators” into their processors which take you most of the way along the performance curve. After all, Intel sells more GPUs embedded in its processor than anybody else sells GPUs. This may not have a material financial impact on Intel but it will have a huge impact on AI related GPU sales.

“GPUs, with NVIDIA being the biggest recent beneficiary, have become the most recent standard for cutting edge deep neural network training, and inference today is spread across CPUs, GPUs, FPGAs, ASICs and even DSPs. AI is a quick moving target and I think it’s unwise to think the engines today will be static in the future. The engines that drive AI are a very competitive space and not only are we seeing startups engaging, but the largest semiconductor companies like Intel. Intel has been on an absolute tear in their goal to be the leader in AI. It acquired Altera for $16B and FPGAs are key to DNN inference.”

https://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickmoorhead/2017/03/23/intel-forms-new-ai-group-reporting-directly-to-ceo-brian-krzanich/#49dfa93b462b

 

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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 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)            Hospital Stumbles in Bid to Teach a Computer to Treat Cancer

Remember all the hoopla about IBM’s Watson computing being applied to medical diagnosis? Ever wonder what happened? Well it turns out things haven’t gone as well as expected. The article seems to try and distance Watson from the program’s failure but, seriously, if the technology worked nearly as well as people thought it would do you really think they would have thrown in the towel?

“In 2012, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center launched an ambitious project with International Business Machines Corp.’s Watson program that promised to transform cancer care with the help of artificial intelligence. Almost five years and more than $62 million later, the sprawling Houston-based public institution has little to show for it, according to a special review conducted by the University of Texas System Audit Office that details a number of stumbles in the progress and management of the project. The audit doesn’t evaluate IBM Watson’s scientific capabilities or whether the technology works for this purpose. But instead, the report details the management and technology challenges at MD Anderson that make it hard to integrate artificial-intelligence software into complicated health-care settings. The Watson-based program isn’t in clinical use, according to the audit. The plan for a pilot focused on leukemia was “suspended mid-project” and the focus shifted to lung cancer to try to speed up progress, according to audit documents. Clinical trial and drug-protocol data in the system are outdated, and the pilot program doesn’t work with the hospital’s current electronic health records, according to the audit.”

http://news.morningstar.com/all/dow-jones/us-markets/201703082772/hospital-stumbles-in-bid-to-teach-a-computer-to-treat-cancer.aspx

2)            Sony’s new wireless charging patent could let you borrow juice from other devices

This article generated a fair bit of online interest this week even though what is being described in the article is essentially “radio”. There is no chance whatsoever any significant amount of power could be transmitted wirelessly between two smartphones, even if they were a few millimeters apart. I’m sure Sony engineers get a bonus for patent applications but it’s rather hard to believe any patent clerk would accept such a thing. Overall it’s a pity so few people paid attention in physics class.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve seen patents and patent fillings related to new wireless charging techniques. Even Apple joined the fray by filing a patent for an inductive wireless charging technology. The company is now rumored to be working with Energous, a wireless charging company that has built tech that can charge wirelessly from a distance — so if you’re at home, your device can be charging no matter where you are in the house. There’s no question that the ultimate goal is for charging to be completely hassle free, and these companies all seem to be working toward that. Sony’s tech could be a piece in that puzzle — or it could just help you keep charged in an emergency, if it ever sees the light of day.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/sony-wireless-charging-patent/

3)            Why laptops won’t come with larger SSDs this year

The SSD is going to kill the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) industry but it may take a bit longer than I expected. It turns out they are so much in demand that suppliers can’t keep up, which means prices are dropping as they should. HDD stocks have bounced back as though investors seem to think the hazard has passed but it hasn’t: this is the ultimate head fake – massive flash (and therefore SSD) capacity will come online within 12 to 18 months and SSD pricing will drop precipitously. That will result in a veritable implosion of demand for HDDs.

“A dearth in NAND flash chip supply will cause the prices of mainstream solid-state drives (SSDs) to leap by as much as 16% this quarter over the previous quarter, meaning laptop makers won’t likely offer consumers higher capacity SSDs in their new systems, according to a report from market research firm DRAMeXchange. On average, contract prices for multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs supplied to the PC manufacturing industry are projected to go up by 12% to 16% compared with the final quarter of 2016; prices of triple-level cell (TLC) SSDs are expected to rise by 10% to 16% sequentially, according to DRAMeXchange. In the second quarter of 2017, the average prices of mainstream client-grade SSDs will keep climbing, but at a more moderate rate.  … The SSD adoption rate in the global notebook market is estimated to reach 45% this year, according to DRAMeXchange. The uptick in SSD adoption will be greater in the consumer-class notebook segment than the business-class segment.”

http://www.computerworld.com/article/3180176/data-storage/why-laptops-wont-come-with-larger-ssds-this-year.html

4)            The Uber Bombshell About to Drop

I have no issue with Uber as a service but I figure anybody who believes it is worth over $60B is delusional: it is a car service, not a tech company. Nevertheless, like so many “unicorns” Uber has to keep stoking excitement in order to keep raising money in order to continue existing. Its self-driving car project is an example of this: AVs will not be commercially available for at least 10 year years and a car service is not going to be the company leading the charge. In any event, if this article is to be believed, their technology is “borrowed” and they might have to give it back.

“In the last few weeks Alphabet filed a lawsuit against Uber. Alphabet and Waymo (Alphabet’s self-driving car company) allege that Anthony Levandowski, an ex-Waymo manager, stole confidential and proprietary information from Waymo, then used it in his own self-driving truck startup, Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016, so the suit was filed against Uber, not Otto. This alone is a fairly explosive claim, but the subtext of Alphabet’s filing is an even bigger bombshell. Reading between the lines, (in my opinion) Alphabet is implying that Mr Levandowski arranged with Uber to: 1) Steal LiDAR and other self-driving component designs from Waymo; 2) Start Otto as a plausible corporate vehicle for developing the self-driving technology; and 3) Acquire Otto for $680 million. Below, I’ll present the timeline of events, my interpretation, and some speculation on a possible (bad) outcome for Uber. The timeline references section numbers from Waymo’s amended filing, so you can read the full context yourself.”

https://danielcompton.net/2017/03/14/uber-bombshell

5)            Uber’s autonomous cars drove 20,354 miles and had to be taken over at every mile, according to documents

Uber may or may not have taken Google’s self-driving car technology but it sure doesn’t look like they took the good stuff. It turns out their vehicles don’t go very far before a human has to wrestle control back from them. It’s just a matter of time before they kill somebody.

“For example: During the week ending March 8, the 43 active cars on the road only drove an average of close to 0.8 miles before the safety driver had to take over for one reason or another. This metric, called miles per intervention, includes all the times drivers have had to take back control from the system over the course of a week. The reasons for these interventions can vary, but that can include navigating unclear lane markings, the system overshooting a turn or driving in inclement weather. The stat excludes “accidental disengagements, end-of-route disengagements and early takeovers.””

http://www.recode.net/2017/3/16/14938116/uber-travis-kalanick-self-driving-internal-metrics-slow-progress?cmpid=BBD031717_TECH

6)            Millions of Smart Meters May Over-Inflate Readings by up to 600%

Smart meters allow the utility to do things like time of use billing and remote meter reading. You might think that the one thing a meter should be able to do is provide a correct reading of electricity consumption but that does not seem to be the case. It may be simply a case that the nature of the electric load is different nowadays as suggest by the issue with LED bulbs. Since the utility selects the smart meter they are probably far less concerned with accuracy than you might believe – especially if the meter overstates actual energy consumption.

“Lab tests carried out by Dutch scientists have shown that some of today’s “smart” electrical meters may give out false readings that in some cases can be 582% higher than actual energy consumption. … Test results varied wildly, with some meters reporting errors way above their disclosed range, going from -32% to +582%. Tests with uncommon results were repeated several times and the results were within a few percents of the original. …The greatest inaccuracies were seen when researchers combined dimmers with energy saving light bulbs and LED bulbs.|

https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/hardware/millions-of-smart-meters-may-over-inflate-readings-by-up-to-600-percent/

7)            FBI Used Best Buy’s Geek Squad To Increase Secret Public Surveillance

Heck – who needs a warrant when you can just pay employees to break constitutional guarantees for you? I admit that it is hard to have pity for alleged criminals, especially those dumb enough to turn electronics over to Best Buy, but this is pretty pathetic, even for the FBI. One thing to consider is that if Best Buy is snooping through your computer looking for signs of criminal activity they are also finding personal information, passwords, credit card information, and so on.

“Recently unsealed records reveal a much more extensive secret relationship than previously known between the FBI and Best Buy’s Geek Squad, including evidence the agency trained company technicians on law-enforcement operational tactics, shared lists of targeted citizens and, to covertly increase surveillance of the public, encouraged searches of computers even when unrelated to a customer’s request for repairs. To sidestep the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against warrantless invasions of private property, federal prosecutors and FBI officials have argued that Geek Squad employees accidentally find and report, for example, potential child pornography on customers’ computers without any prodding by the government. Assistant United States Attorney M. Anthony Brown last year labeled allegations of a hidden partnership as “wild speculation.” But more than a dozen summaries of FBI memoranda filed inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse this month in USA v. Mark Rettenmaier contradict the official line.”

http://www.ocweekly.com/news/fbi-used-best-buys-geek-squad-to-increase-secret-public-surveillance-7950030

8)            Why Intel Bought Mobileye

Actually the reason Intel bought Mobileye is pretty much the reason they buy almost everything else: they prefer financial engineering over actual engineering and would rather give their money to Mobileye shareholders than their own shareholders. Intel has absolutely no understanding of the auto industry and buying Mobileye doesn’t change that. The auto industry is a high volume low margin business and there is not a chance in a thousand that auto vendors are going to rely on Intel as a major supplier for important technology. All this deal does is to give Mobileye’s competitors a boost. The big question is how long it will take before Intel writes the transaction off.

“Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, announced it will acquire Mobileye, a leading automotive supplier of sensor systems that help prevent collisions, for $63.54 per share, which has a fully-diluted equity value of $15.3 billion and an enterprise value of $14.7 billion. The deal has left some scratching their heads such as Citron Research, a short-selling firm that once called the company “the short of 2016” in a tweet. Others have questioned the acquisition price, asking if Intel is paying too much? But the deal isn’t so surprising after a review of Intel’s acquisition and partnership history in the past two years. And it represents the next wave of deals in the automotive tech space, said Stefan Heck CEO of NAUTO, self-driving car tech startup that uses a combination of its own artificial intelligence algorithms, cameras, motion sensors, and GPS to detect what’s happening on the road and inside the car.”

http://fortune.com/2017/03/13/why-intel-bought-mobileye/

9)            Top Three iPhone 8 Rumors You Should Know

I suspect that Apple could launch a large stick of chewing gum with an iPhone label and sell a few million copies provided it charged a high enough price. None of the “top” rumors I have seen discuss any features which haven’t been on the market, in some cases for years. My Nexus 5 had wireless charging and that phone came out in 2013 and wireless charging wasn’t new then.

“Apple Inc. is expected to launch a new cool iPhone model this year. New reports leaked out of Japan claim the Cupertino-based tech giant has been testing multiple iPhone models. It has yet to finalize a 10th-anniversery iPhone to be launched this year alongside iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus models. Rumors suggest that Apple will launch a 5.8-inch flagship handset with edge-to-edge OLED display in September. It is said to feature a long-distance wireless charging, an edge-to-edge OLED display, and a “revolutionary” front-facing 3D camera.”

http://www.toptechnews.com/article/index.php?story_id=101005UN0YLZ

10)        Worldwide Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Market Expected to Grow at a Compound Annual Rate of 58%, Reaching 99.4 Million Units in 2021, According to IDC

Gartner, IDC, and the like are in the business of selling research reports and believe me people prefer research reports which paint sunlit meadows far more than they like research reports which tell the truth. This is especially the case in the tech industry where bullish forecasts drive stock prices and funding valuations. Quite frankly I think you have to be on drugs if you believe the growth forecasts in this summary: it is pretty clear that, while there will be a market for VR and AR, that market will be a fraction of the size the size people predicted a year ago.

“New device launches, an expanding array of content for both consumer and enterprise users, and lower price points will propel the worldwide augmented and virtual reality headset device market at a breakneck pace. According to data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker, total headset device shipments will reach 99.4 million units in 2021, up nearly 10-fold from the 10.1 million units shipped in 2016. This results in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 58% across the five-year forecast period.”

http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS42371517