The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 31, 2012
I offer a welcome back to my earlier readers and an introduction for my new ones. I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst, and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.
The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.
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Happy Labour Day!
1. Google, Apple CEOs in secret patent talks
I could have done an entire Geek’s List on the commentary regarding the Apple v. Samsung case. The favorable verdict for Apple (I’d say bizarre, but court case are won by arguing, not facts) shows a lot of what is wrong with IP law and technology nowadays. I doubt it is over, though: Motorola Mobile (Google) has thousands of patents, many of which Apple no doubt infringes. The victory is, therefore, likely Pyrrhic : cross licensing will follow, which will remove the hammer of litigation.
“One possible scenario under consideration could be a truce involving disputes over basic features and functions in Google’s Android mobile software, one source said. But it was unclear whether Page and Cook were discussing a broad settlement of the various disputes between the two companies, most of which involve the burgeoning mobile computing area, or are focused on a more limited set of issues.”
2. Phones will get all charged up about new Ultrabook feature
I don’t really understand why this technology generates so much interest: I have an electric toothbrush with ‘wireless charging’ technology and it cost me $20. I can see the advantage of not needing to carry a USB cable for charging your stuff, but you will have to have compatible devices for this to work at all. And you’ll have to carry around that USB cable for the non-compatible devices anyway.
“The creatively-dubbed Wireless Charging Technology by Intel (WCT) is pretty simple. Just put your juice-impaired gadget within about an inch or so of a WCT-enabled Ultrabook with WCT detection software running. The laptop will couple with the mobile device and begin transferring energy wirelessly, as if conducted by the ghostly hand of Nikola Tesla himself.”
3. Cable-Shaped Batteries with a Twist
Even with low performance, the ability to product a ‘string like’ battery could allow the development of unusual products.
“The lithium-ion batteries keep working even when tied into knots and otherwise abused. The novel design doesn’t put out very much power, but researchers at the company are developing more-efficient formulations, and they say the lithium-ion cable batteries could be ready for mass production in about five years.”
4. The Coming Civil War over General Purpose Computing
This is an interesting read though you have to get through some of what seems to be paranoia. Before ignoring it consider the recent and ongoing controversy regarding the risk Wauwei’s position in the communications market poses for national security. He does make some good points.
“But there’s a problem. We don’t know how to make a computer that can run all the programs we can compile except for whichever one pisses off a regulator, or disrupts a business model, or abets a criminal. The closest approximation we have for such a device is a computer with spyware on it— a computer that, if you do the wrong thing, can intercede and say, “I can’t let you do that, Dave.””
5. Western analogue viewers fail to keep pace with digital connected TV revolution
It is not surprising that emerging markets may be more receptive to ‘smart’ TVs as these are more likely to sell in greenfield type situations than in fully penetrated markets. As it is, my TV is the most expensive consumer electronics product I own and I want it to be as dumb as possible: it is, after all, a display for the devices I have connected to it and I don’t want what it does to be limited by the imagination of an Apple (or Google) engineer. As for ‘interactive content’ I’d pay real money for a History Channel that focuses on history, a news channel that focuses on news, and more than four or five hours of watchable TV per week.
“Across all markets, the ability to connect to the internet is seen as less important than price, screen size and display technology, when buying a new TV. However, the disinterest in internet connectivity for TVs is significantly greater in the Western countries, than in the emerging markets. Only 26% of UK and 29% of US consumers say they look out for a net enabled TV set, compared to 61% in India and 64% in China.”
6. Engineers achieve longstanding goal of stable nanocrystalline metals
Nanomaterials is a field which shows considerable potential for technological disruption in a variety of applications and this and the next article indicates.
“They’ve designed and made alloys that form extremely tiny grains — called nanocrystals — that are only a few billionths of a meter across. These alloys retain their nanocrystalline structure even in the face of high heat. Such materials hold great promise for high-strength structural materials, among other potential uses.”
7. Nanocellulose: A cheap, conductive, stronger-than-Kevlar wonder material made from wood pulp
I wouldn’t rush out and buy stocks in pulp manufacturers just yet – things like flammability and cost are bound to impact the marketability of nanocellulose. Plus, cellulose is pretty easy to get. That being said, this is cool stuff.
“This paste can then be shaped, or used to laminate other surfaces — and when it dries, it has amazing properties. Nanocellulose is very similar to glass fiber or Kevlar — it’s very stiff, lightweight, and it has eight times the tensile strength of steel. The crystalline form of nanocellulose is transparent, too — and perhaps most importantly, unlike other wonder materials such as graphene, nanocellulose can be produced in large quantities very cheaply. In crystalline form, nanocellulose is gas impermeable — and when used as the basis for foams/aerogels, it’s highly absorbent.”
8. ‘Nano machine shop’ shapes nanowires, ultrathin films
Not quite as much detail as I was hoping for (speed and cost are unanswered in the article) but interesting nonetheless. A system which can speed up prototype development, even at a considerable cost is bound to accelerate progress in this evolving field.
“The researchers used their technique to stamp nano- and microgears; form tiny circular shapes out of a material called graphene, an ultrathin sheet of carbon that holds promise for advanced technologies; and change the shape of silver nanowires, said Gary Cheng, an associate professor of industrial engineering at Purdue University.”
9. Germany Rethinks Path to Green Future
Despite the title, this is not an anti-‘Green Energy’ article – Germany still seems hell bent on this path. Not surprisingly, the government has discovered that the pursuit of taxpayers’ money is not always a smooth one. Frankly, I believe the enterprise will end in tears, and astronomical electricity rates, for Germans.
“The problem is that utilities no longer have any financial incentives to build coal- or gas-fired power plants. Owing to the rise in green energy, utilities have fewer and fewer opportunities to sell their electricity, so they earn less and less. At the same time, the technology for controlling electricity consumption — so-called “smart grids” — is still in its infancy. Although suitable equipment is already available, there isn’t a market on which to sell them — or a concept for promoting it.”
10. How a Philips light bulb uses blue LEDs to produce white light
Just in case you’ve seen these at the store and wondered how a yellow light bulb can give off white light, here is an explanation.
“There’s no two ways around it: many potential buyers have been turned off by the yellow cap pieces on some LED bulbs. These bulbs might be efficient, increasingly affordable, and last for upwards of 25,000 hours, but what the heck is with that day glow yellow?”
11. Light goes out for incandescent bulbs
It is interesting how people can be, for example, in favor of drug legalization but also in favor of prohibiting a particular kind of light bulb. I am not defending the lowly incandescent, but they do no direct harm, you do pay for electricity, and if you decide that a particular kind of light bulb is what you want why should you not be able to own it? Just think where this could lead if a government committee decides to look at the ‘carbon footprint’ of beer cans …
“From 1 September, an EU directive aimed at reducing the energy use of lighting means that retailers will no longer be allowed to sell 40W and 25W incandescent bulbs. Similar bans came into effect for 60W and 100W incandescent bulbs over the past three years. The restrictions are predicted to save 39 terawatt-hours of electricity across the EU annually by 2020.”
12. Why are we training our arts grads to be baristas?
I figure there is nothing wrong with taking an arts degree, however, you should have to sign a solemn declaration that you understand that said degree does nothing whatsoever to enhance your ability to find a job. As for the argument that an arts degree enhances /critical thinking skills’ that is not exactly unique to studying Moby Dick.
“When I finished my MA I found myself working at a coffee chain surrounded by fellow students and recent graduates, all of us looking for that ‘real job’ and confused about our fate. Remember: Those you see behind the coffee counter are likely a plucky crew of medievalists, statisticians, architects and management graduates.”
13. Timminco: How Eric Sprott got solar burn
Step right up folks – behind this curtain is the most amazing process ever discovered! Yes, a new way to purify one of the most studied and valuable commodities on the planet! And it was discovered by a tiny company with no expertise in the segment! I have to be care what I write, but let’s just say this article skirts around the central question of the existence of the process itself. The article does, however, speak volumes for the Canadian securities regulatory environment as much as the cluelessness and gullibility of sell-side analysts.
“As the coach pulled up outside an unexceptional-looking industrial building, anticipation mounted. This was the place where Timminco Ltd., until recently a little-known producer of low-grade industrial metals, said it had solved the solar industry’s supply problem. Here, in Bécancour, it had developed a proprietary process to produce solar-grade silicon much more cheaply than anyone else. That promise had propelled Timminco shares from less than 30 cents to more than $22 by the end of 2007, earning it plaudits as the top-performing stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange that year. The company’s market value would soon surpass $3.5-billion.”
14. A WORLD WITHOUT MOSQUITOES
This article is a remarkable example of scientific hubris. I hope the journalist only reflected the answers which aligned with her own preconceptions (journalists do that, you know). Fortunately, mosquitos will be around long after people are gone, so the point is moot.
“Eradicating any organism would have serious consequences for ecosystems — wouldn’t it? Not when it comes to mosquitoes …”
15. Prehistoric tiny bugs found trapped in amber
The whole ‘Jurassic Park’ thing is overdone: things like DNA degrade over time just by thermodynamic processes. In fact, they are so fragile all cells have repair mechanisms to keep the DNA more or less intact while we are alive and it stops working once we die. However, this is an interesting discovery.
“The discoveries of amber-encased insects in Italy may sound like something out of “Jurassic Park” but these bugs are even older than that. They are about 230 million years old, which puts them in the Triassic time period, and about 100 million years older than what had been the previously known oldest critters trapped in fossilized tree resin, or amber.”
16. A world first: Bionic eye transplant lets blind woman see
I am pretty sure this is not really a world first (ocular implants have been reported on before) but I think what they mean to say is this behind the retina approach is a world first. Maybe that speaks for the sorts of blindness they hope to treat in the future using this approach.
Last month, it was switched on after she fully recovered from her surgery. Ashworth hasn’t regained full sight, but for the first time, there’s hope: the Australian now see flashes of light and shapes when researchers deliver electrical pulses to the device.
17. Scanning plan aims to help robots in the home
@home projects allow ‘just folks’ to participate in scientific advances. If not for the 3D mapping you’d think ‘Google Images’ or just randomly working through Imagur would provide enough examples.
“The Kinect@home project requires mass participation to accumulate many examples of common household objects. The scans will build into a library of objects robots can consult as they navigate around homes.”
18. HBO cuts the cord for international launch
I wrote an article in 1996 (give or take) which predicted how the Internet would completely disrupt the traditional broadcast and distribution model. It’s odd that it has taken so long to get only so far. Give it another 10 years the very idea of ‘networks’ will be in doubt.
“HBO will make the Nordic region the first market where its programming will be available to consumers without requiring that they have a pay-TV subscription. The move sets HBO up to go head to head in competition in those countries with Netflix.”
19. Poof! $1 Billion Slashed From 2012 Facebook Revenue Forecast
I don’t really understand things like Facebook, though I can spot an IPO that is likely to underperform (pro-tip: if the insiders, especially private equity and venture capital types, believe it is such a good investment you should own it rather than them, its probably not a good investment). Nonetheless, this might be of interest to some readers.
“EMarketer today said the No. 1 social network will just break $5 billion in revenues this year, with $4.2 billion coming from advertising and the rest from payments and other revenues. That’s down $1 billion from the research firm’s estimate from last February, several months before Facebook’s initial public offering in early May. Even so, Facebook’s ad revenues are still forecast to jump 34% this year from a year ago, and rise 29% next year.”
20. Raspberry Pi production grows, $35 Linux computer now available in bulk
A bit dated, but when I saw this I immediately tried to place an order. No stock and they all still show no stock. I find this remarkable for an ‘open source’ project. I can buy an alternative, iMX233-OLINUXINO-MICRO, but it has an unusable video port and the community is less developed. Sigh – maybe for Christmas.
“The purchasing limits have consequently been lifted, making it possible to purchase the system in much larger quantities. The ability to bulk order Raspberry Pi units is a major win for schools and businesses that want to take advantage of the low-cost Linux computer. Schools, for example, can finally buy enough to be able to hand one to every student in a class.”