The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 31, 2012

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.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. I am trying to reconstruct my distribution list so if you receive this newsletter and want to be added to the distribution list, send me an email at

I blog at

Happy Labour Day!


Brian Piccioni



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.”,-ultrathin-films.html

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.”


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.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 24, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 24, 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.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. I am trying to reconstruct my distribution list so if you receive this newsletter and want to be added to the distribution list, send me an email at

I blog at


Have a good weekend.


Brian Piccioni



1.        Q2 semiconductor revenue may be “troubling” indicator of market health

In 2001 I wrote a detailed analysis which predicted that the growth era of the semiconductor industry was (then) in the past. There were/are no large growth markets for semiconductors – just replacement and substitution. Unfortunately, I rather foolishly predicted a collapse in valuation multiples whereas the opposite has occurred. There is nothing unique or unusual about this growth. It’s par for the course in a moribund industry.

“In a troubling sign for the health of the semiconductor market in 2012, Q2 revenue increased by less than 3% compared to the typically weak first quarter. If the semiconductor industry were on a trajectory for stronger annual growth in 2012, sequential growth would be expected to amount to at least 4% or more in Q2.”


2.        Tablet market breaks records as PCs falter

People might point to the tablet market as a counterpoint to my above comment. I would argue that the tablet market is due for extreme price compression, and, in any event, the semiconductor content of the average tablet is modest compared to the average PC.

“Most impressive about Apple’s 17.0 million tablet shipments in 2Q’2012 was it nearly matched 2010 total worldwide shipments of 17.3 million for all vendors,” explained ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr.
”Nearly one million of its iPad 2 devices were shipped to US education customers during the period, which contributed to the company’s growth but also its continuing average selling price (ASP) decline.”


3.        Gartner’s 2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies …

I don’t consider Gartner predictions or analysis to have any value or utility. Nonetheless, some people might find this interesting.

“Big data, 3D printing, activity streams, Internet TV, Near Field Communication (NFC) payment, cloud computing and media tablets are some of the fastest-moving technologies identified in Gartner Inc.’s 2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.”


4.        LG’s flexible, plastic e-ink display hits mass production

A bit dated, I know, but interesting nonetheless. Plastic displays could be a big deal because they have the prospect of extremely low cost, meaning disposable dynamic display devices in the not so distant future.

“The technology, known as electronic paper display (EPD), will enable e-reader manufacturers to produce thinner devices and perhaps featuring different form factors from what’s available today, all of this without sacrificing durability. The South Korean company says its plastic display survives repeated 1.5-meter drop tests as well as break and scratch tests with a small urethane hammer.”


5.        Chinese solar industry faces weak sales, price war

This article contains a lot of interesting information. It mentions that production of solar cells is essentially trivial with very low barriers to entry – not news to me, but solar advocates who suggest rapid price declines are sustainable might take pause. The article also mentions the loses and massive debts accumulated by Chinese companies – setting aside the opacity of Chinese financial disclosure, these alone may explain the pricing environment: things are really cheap when you sell below cost. Finally, solar advocate would point (absurdly) to the wisdom of the Chinese government in its ‘massive’ move to solar. If Chinese domestic demand was so robust, why are these companies bleeding cash and blaming it on US and EU tariffs?

“Since 2010, the price of polysilicon wafers used to make solar cells has plunged by 73 percent, according to Aaron Chew and Francesco Citro, analysts for Maxim Group, a financial firm in New York City. The price of cells has fallen by 68 percent and that of modules by 57 percent. “The solar manufacturing industry has been wracked by a collapse in pricing,” said Chew and Citro in a report. The major Chinese manufacturers have accumulated a total of $17.5 billion in debt, leaving balance sheets “at the breaking point,” they said.”


6.        Vestas Speeds Layoffs in Face of Uncertain Wind Energy Outlook

The wind and solar industries are all about subsidies, without which they are non-viable. There is no reason to suspect this will change any time soon. Despite massive spending by governments, ‘renewable energy’ constitutes a token contribution to electrical production. With governments all over the world struggling with high debt, the gravy train is grinding to a halt.

“The move at the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer stems from lower demand due to sluggish economies around the world and the uncertainty regarding a production tax credit in the U.S., which could expire at the end of this year.”


7.        Scientists develop lithium-ion battery that charges 120 times faster than normal

Yet another revolutionary battery breakthrough: if one percent of the ones I read about ever made it to market, the world would be a different place. At least in this article the author mentions the challenges of delivering such a massive amount of power.

“The Korean method takes the cathode material — standard lithium manganese oxide (LMO) in this case — and soaks it in a solution containing graphite. Then, by carbonizing the graphite-soaked LMO, the graphite turns into a dense network of conductive traces that run throughout the cathode. This new cathode is then packaged normally, with an electrolyte and graphite anode, to create the fast-charging li-ion battery. Other factors, such as the battery’s energy density and cycle life seem to remain unchanged.”


8.        IBM taking two paths toward making solar power cheaper than fossil fuels

I guess it’s a good thing IBM has so much money to spend on basic research, but I rather doubt a revolution in solar power will emerge as a result.

“The panels that most people are familiar with use silicon as a semiconductor. That has a few advantages, like cheap raw materials and reasonably high efficiency. But manufacturing panels remains expensive, and there aren’t obvious ways of squeezing large gains in efficiency out of standard silicon. So, IBM is looking at materials that don’t involve silicon: thin films and concentrating photovoltaics.”


9.        New space-age insulating material for homes, clothing and other everyday uses

There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in material sciences nowadays. These aerogel materials are very exciting and their production could become a major industry. Unfortunately, specifics about costs, etc., are missing from the article.

“Meador said that the aerogel is 5-10 times more efficient than existing insulation, with a quarter-inch-thick sheet providing as much insulation as 3 inches of fiberglass. And there could be multiple applications in thin-but-high-efficiency insulation for buildings, pipes, water heater tanks and other devices.”


10.   Why I’m uninstalling Windows 8

The gaming industry has not been kind in its comments regarding Windows 8, so I thought this article from a gaming site, was more of the same. However, most of the comments, which are universally unfavorable, are not gaming specific. What possessed Microsoft to radically overhaul its user interface – which is the one thing most users know about and OS – is  a mystery. I continue to predict Windows 8 will be an epic disaster.

“The Metro interface is Windows 8. The desktop that you’re used to is also there, but it’s built as a separate app. Think of it this way: Metro is the shell. The desktop is an app within that shell. If you want to start Steam, you’ll want to launch the Desktop app, and then launch Steam. This is insanity. This is Windows 8.”

11.   More RuggedCom Woes

Yet another discovery of weaknesses in RuggedCom’s security firmware. It really makes you wonder what the stock price would be if these disclosures had been made while the company was still publicly traded. Now, of course, it is Siemens’ problem.

“This time, Justin took a different track with the device firmware and showed that all products use the same SSL private key, hard-coded in the firmware. This is fairly typical in cheap consumer-grade embedded products, and has the unfortunate effect that easy Man-In-The-Middle attacks can be performed against products.”


12.   Eighth Broadband Progress Report

Nearly every day I read something about the increased use of tablets and broadband in education. With a little less than one third of Americans not subscribing to broadband (and, presumably many of those because they can’t afford it) you really have to wonder what the future of education is in the US. That being said, I live 50 km from Toronto, Canada’s largest city and I can’t get broadband. Indeed, while preparing this week’s Geeks List I repeatedly lost access to the Internet. Good thing my kids don’t have a homework assignment due.

“Notwithstanding this progress, the Report finds that approximately 19 million Americans—6 percent of the population—still lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds.  In rural areas, nearly one-fourth of the population —14.5 million people—lack access to this service.  In tribal areas, nearly one-third of the population lacks access. Even in areas where broadband is available, approximately 100 million Americans still do not subscribe.”


13.   Darpa Has Seen the Future of Computing … And It’s Analog

I found this article amusing because the author appears to have no idea what a computer is or of the history of computing. In any event, probabilistic computing has been around for a long, long, time, and, while it has its applications, few of those are exactly mainstream. Analog computers are, by their nature, not general purpose or easily reprogrammable, and storage is a problem. I figure if you are going to do probabilistic computing, memristor based neural nets are the way to go.

“Hammerstom, who helped build chips for Intel back in the 1980s, wants the UPSIDE chips to do computing in a whole different way. He’s looking for an alternative to straight-up boolean logic, where the voltage in a chip’s transistor represents a zero or a one. Hammerstrom wants chipmakers to build analog processors that can do probabilistic math without forcing transistors into an absolute one-or-zero state, a technique that burns energy.”


14.   Slime mold mimics Canadian highway network (w/ video)

This is actually an example of probabilistic computing (see above). I don’t know how the architects of the highway systems feel being compared to slime mold, however. This story reminds me of an experience I had as a design engineer: we were evaluating a VHDL (hardware design language) compiler and my colleague applied it to a problem I had previously solved, namely an extremely complex memory control state machine. After about a month of work, the system came up with , more or less the same solution I had. To which my boss quipped “A hundred thousand dollars and it’s only as good as Brian!”

“By showing species as low as slime mold can compute a network as complex as the Canadian highway system, we were able to provide some evidence that nature computes.”


15.   Programming playground: A whole-cell computational model

This is an interesting exercise, especially because the model appears to be in the public domain. This should allow experimenters to more easily design models for other cells and to perform virtual genetic experiments. Who knows – maybe this will become a novel method for exploring therapeutics. That being said a model of a mouse, no matter how good, tells you nothing about mice. All experiments will have to be replicated in vivo to discover how things actually work.

“Three days ago, Jonathan R. Karr, Jayodita C. Sanghvi and coauthors in Markus W. Covert’s lab published a whole-cell computational model of the life cycle of the human pathogen Mycoplasma genitalium. This is the first model of its kind: they track all biological processes such as DNA replication, RNA transcription and regulation, protein synthesis, metabolism and cell division at the molecular level. To achieve this, the authors integrate 28 different sub-models of the known cellular processes.”


16.   Bonobo genius makes stone tools like early humans did

I don’t want to say anything bad about Kanzi, because bonobos can be pretty nasty, but he appears to be applying what he was shown previously. Admittedly, that is interesting, but figuring out, all by himself, how to make stone tools would be an awful lot more exciting.

“Perhaps most remarkable about the tools Kanzi created is their resemblance to early hominid tools. Both bonobos made and used tools to obtain food – either by extracting it from logs or by digging it out of the ground. But only Kanzi’s met the criteria for both tool groups made by early Homo: wedges and choppers, and scrapers and drills.”


17.   The Black Death is dead (thanks to evolution)

I hate it when articles written about evolution provide deterministic explanations. It shows a weak grasp of the theory: selection pressures do not have deterministic outcomes and creatures don’t ‘have to’ do anything. This could have played out an infinite number of ways. In any event, we have no idea whether the Black Death is dead – it could be ‘resting’. Of course, antibiotics and  modern health practices would quickly contain any outbreak.

“In other words, the original plague died out, probably long ago. The likely explanation is just this: the Black Death was simply too deadly to persist. Evolutionary theory tells us that a pathogen that kills all its victims will eventually run out of victims, leading to its own extinction. The plague bacteria needed to evolve into something less virulent, and that seems to be what happened. A bug that doesn’t kill its host is far more successful evolutionarily. (Just look at the common cold, which we can’t seem to get rid of.)”


18.   Universal vaccine could eliminate annual flu shots

This is an interesting story and, if it works out, could be a big deal in public health. The reason I included it is the lesson it provides for what passes for journalism nowadays. Rather than focusing on the science, some halfwit journalist decided to call up a anti-vaccination organization for their counterpoint.  Have a look at the Vaccine Risk Awareness wbsite ( and see if you can find out what Ms. West’s qualifications are. Appalling.

“I had a child who suffered a severe vaccine reaction … it’s a real wake-up call,” said Edda West, a founding member of the Vaccination Risk Awareness Network. West said only 10 per cent of all flu-like illnesses are actually caused by the influenza virus. “Even if their vaccine is super-successful and 100 per cent effective, and every person in this country gets it, you’re still going to have 90 per cent of those people coming down with flu-like illnesses,” she said.”


19.   New Hover Vehicle Recalls ‘Star Wars’ Bike

This looks seriously cool but I doubt anything like it will be on the market any time soon. It seems to be a military project with the end product expected to be an (unmanned drone). Since making a drone would be easier than making a manned version, I figure they just made the manned version to have a blast.

“The aerial vehicle resembles a science fiction flying bike with two ducted rotors instead of wheels, but originates from a design abandoned in the 1960s because of stability and rollover problems.”


20.   The iPhone 5 Leaked!

With Apple being the most valuable company in the world, any information regarding their next earth shaking product is of great interest.



The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 17, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 17, 2012


I offer a welcome back to my earlier readers and an introduction for my new ones. My name is Brian Piccioni. 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.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. I am trying to reconstruct my distribution list so if you receive this newsletter and want to be added to the distribution list, send me an email at

I blog at

Brian Piccioni

PS: Its been a slow news week, so I had to reach back a bit in time for some articles.

1.         Cloud Computing Company Joyent Leaves Early Supporters Out In The Cold

I’ve never heard of either of these companies before but this is reason number #1104 as why cloud computing is a bad idea for customers: once you got your enterprise plugged in to a particular provider they pretty much have absolute pricing power over you.

“Back in 2006, cloud computing company Joyent offered a lifetime subscription to bundle of hosting services for a one time fee of $500. Now, according to an e-mail sent to customers, Joyent is pulling the plug on those lifetime accounts. Customers are predictably upset, but not for the reasons you might expect.”

2.         Super Hi-Vision: the future of TV that’s 16x HD

Super Hi-Vision is awesome technology. Unfortunately, few consumers can tell the difference between 1080i and 1080p resolutions, and most TV is distributed so compressed it is high definition in name only. UHDTV and other high resolution TV technologies will never be successful in the home. However, I believe there is significant potential in venues such as watching sports games in theatres, etc..

“Known as UHDTV, Ultra High Definition gives a stunning image that’s 16 times the quality of HD. That’s an 8K resolution or 7,680 x 4,320 pixels. NHK has given the technology a brand name: Super Hi-Vision, presumably so it can market the technology in the future. But this isn’t just an endeavour in image quality; NHK has also developed stunning 22.2 sound to go alongside it, which sounds simply epic.”

3.         No medals at Olympics for 3-D TV, Ultra HDTV

As we predicted, ‘3-D’ TV is rapidly becoming known more for inducing yawns and headaches than for consumer interest.

“For broadcasters, the London Olympics is the first to feature extensive 3-D coverage (NBC has been broadcasting 12 hours of 3-D programming every day!), while testing-ultra HDTV (also known as 8K). And yet, the U.S. market has seen virtually no uptick in 3-D TV sales.  Similarly, UHDTV is drawing scant media attention. Thus, no consumers seem inclined to ask what on earth UHDTV is.”–For-3-D-and-UHDTV–not-even-a-Bronze

4.         Graphene’s behavior depends on where it sits

This is not a surprising result, given the fact graphene is only an atom thick. That being said, this could allow significant flexibility in the development of novel graphene materials by combining the material with different underlying layers. The challenge of mass production remains, however.

“When sheets of graphene are placed on substrates made of different materials, fundamental properties — such as how the graphene conducts electricity and how it interacts chemically with other materials — can be drastically different, depending on the nature of the underlying material.”

5.         Putting An End To The Biggest Lie On The Internet

Onerous ‘Terms of Service’ are one reason I don’t worry too much about piracy. The lawyers figure out ways to steal your intellectual property (i.e. pictures) so you shouldn’t feel bad about stealing companies’ intellectual property. The major difference between you and them is they have lawyers and you don’t.

“But a new project called TOS;DR wants to change that. The site aims to give more power to users by summarizing terms of service, flagging potential issues and rating apps on a scale from A (the best) to E (the worst). So far the only company with an E, the worst possible rating, is TwitPic, which reserves the rights to sell users’ photos to news agency without giving the photographer a cut.”

6.         Harvard Researchers Use D-Wave Quantum Computer to Fold Proteins

Protein folding is a “computationally difficult” problem. In other words, it takes an enormous amount of computing power and time to solve. It is also an important problem with significant potentially application in drug design and biochemistry. This could be a significant advance.

“In a paper published yesterday in Nature Scientific Reports,, a team of Harvard University researchers, led by Professor Alan Aspuru-Guzik, presented results of the largest protein folding problem solved to date using a quantum computer. The researchers ran instances of a lattice protein folding model, known as the Miyazawa-Jernigan model, on a D-Wave One™ quantum computer.”

7.         Microwave laser fulfills 60 years of promise Physicists build first practical maser.

I read about MASERs many years ago but I didn’t know they could only put out a tiny amount of power. I don’t know about practical applications for this, but the story (and the photo) sounds like it came out of a Hollywood film about a mad scientist.

“He borrowed some spare pentacene from a lab at Imperial, and cooked it with another organic molecule known as p-terphenyl. The result was a pink crystal a few centimetres long. Next, the team needed a powerful laser. Oxborrow located an old medical laser on eBay and drove to a warehouse in north London to pick it up.”

8.         Solid-state revolution: in-depth on how SSDs really work

A little dated, but up to date in terms of information. If you’ve ever wondered what Solid State Disks (SSDs) are, you’ll want to read this. Long story short: SSDs are things that will make hard disk drives as relevant in the future as floppy disks are today.

“Solid-state drives are odd creatures. Though they sound simple in theory, they store some surprisingly complex secrets. For instance, compare an SSD to a traditional magnetic hard drive. A modern multi-terabyte spinning hard disk plays tricks with magnetism and quantum mechanics, results of decades of research and billions of dollars and multiple Nobel Prizes in physics. The drives contain complex moving parts manufactured to extremely tight tolerances, with drive heads moving around just thousandths of a millimeter above platters rotating at thousands of revolutions per minute. A modern solid-state drive performs much more quickly, but it’s also a more mundane on the inside, as it’s really a hard drive-shaped bundle of NAND flash memory. Simple, right?”

9.         Hybrid drives already passe, as SSD sales skyrocket

The idea of a hybrid drive is some of the performance of an SSD but with the cost per bit like Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). Thing is, you also end up with all of the negatives of HDDs in power consumption and mechanical complexity. This too shall pass.

“A new report from IHS iSuppli shows that while sales of hybrid drives are expected to double over the next year, that increase is unremarkable compared with sales of pure solid-state drives (SSDs), which are expected to skyrocket 2,660%.”

10.     A fresh chapter for organic data storage

Don’t rush out and short your flash memory and hard disk stocks just yet. (Actually hard disk companies are doomed, but not because of this). This is interesting biochemistry research but not particularly useful as data storage due to numerous considerations such as data access time, instability, etc..

“DNA has the potential to store huge amounts of information. In theory, two bits of data can be incorporated per nucleotide — the single base unit of a DNA string — so each gram of the double-stranded molecule could store 455 exabytes of data (1 exabyte is 1018 bytes). Such dense packing outstrips inorganic data-storage devices such as flash memory, hard disks or even storage based on quantum-computing methods.”

11.     Apple is now better than Intel on chips

When I saw the headline my blood pressure immediately went up: I figured, ok another fanboy article written by an ignorant journalist praising the genius of the greatest company which ever existed ever. Instead, the article is actually a critique of a fanboy write up written by a sell side tech analyst with limited grasp of technology. That, somehow, is more reassuring.

“Reported by Cnet,  Richard said that it no longer mattered about Moore’s Law but rather how the “blocks” of circuits are put together and the “nexus” with the software that runs on those circuits.”

Apple has big lead over Intel in mobile chips, analyst says

12.     Apple Exploring Options For New Apple TV

The TV industry is in a rather unique position: for the most part broadcasters and cable companies own licenses of one form or another and Apple needs them a lot more than they need Apple. In fact, Apple absolutely needs them and they have no need for Apple. Despite sometimes hysterical headlines, don’t expect Apple to ‘revolutionize TV’ any time soon.

“However, it is unclear whether the iconic device maker will be able to convince U.S. cable TV giants such as Time Warner and Comcast that adopting Apple-branded set-top-boxes would be in their best interests given the negative impact that Apple’s iTunes Store has already had on the U.S. music industry.”

13.     Judge Koh asks Apple’s attorneys if they’re ‘smoking crack’

I didn’t include this article because it is ‘Hate Apple Day’ – for me, every day is Hate Apple Day. Rather, I noticed that the topics on the majority of websites focusing on tech related news are predominantly legal and financial in nature: who’s suing whom, the latest ‘anti-piracy’ laws and litigation, and Facebook’s share price. If that doesn’t tell you something about the sorry state of technology today, I don’t know what does.

“Judge Lucy Koh has been going increasingly terse with both Apple and Samsung as the trial continues, and she just let Apple have it after receiving a 75-page briefing. The document covered 22 potential rebuttal witnesses the company might want to call after Samsung finishes presenting its case. With the jury out of the courtroom, Koh laid into Apple, asking why it would present such a lengthy document “when unless you’re smoking crack you know these witnesses aren’t going to be called!””

14.     Musopen

Now this is interesting: an archive of music recordings, biographical and background information, and sheet music. All open source and free (copyright expired).

15.     USB MUSIC STUDIO Version 0.1

I know there are a lot of people out there who like to fool around with music and computers. This caught my eye, so I thought I’d pass it on.

“Hey guys, I made this so that I could have a USB key to carry with me that would allow me to make music when I am on the go, no matter what. I included all of my favorite sample packs and VST instruments from all over, and even some digital audio workstations that I like. You can unzip this file to any USB stick with about 1GB of free space and work completely from the USB stick.”

16.     ICS-CERT Warns of Serious Flaws in Tridium Niagara Software

Kaspersky Labs is in the anti-virus business, so you have to believe threats are goo dnews for their bottom line. That being said, it seems that post Stuxnet people are actually looking at mission critical control systems and discovering they are often not secure.

“The DHS and ICS-CERT are warning users of some popular Tridium Niagara AX industrial control system software about a series of major vulnerabilities in the applications that are remotely exploitable and could be used to take over vulnerable systems. The bugs, discovered by researchers Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle, are just the latest in a series of vulnerabilities found in the esoteric ICS software packages that control utilities and other critical systems.”

17.     Antenna Heat Fuels Oil Sands Recovery Process

There is a lot of hysteria over oil sands and fracking despite the fact that human progress is more or less directly tied to abundant, cheap, energy. I doubt this sort of development will quell the hysteria, which is based more on gut feel than fact, but it is interesting and potentially valuable.

“After determining that propane or methane be used as a solvent to make the bitumen flow through the ground once it was heated, officials from Harris and the oil sand consortium “had a epiphany” about using radio frequency and solvents together to heat and move the bitumen, said Derrick Ehresman, project manager for Harris in Alberta, in an interview with Rigzone.”

18.     Chimpanzee hand gestures suggest human communication is even older than we thought

This and the next story are really about human arrogance. I suspect that anybody observing practically any animal will discover they are more intelligent than previously believed. Except cats.

“Dr. Roberts found that at least a third of the chimps’ gestures were similar to those of humans and meant broadly the same thing. Chimps will use what we would recognize as a begging gesture to get others to give them food, they clap their hands together when excited, and when they want another chimp to approach them, they make what we would instantly recognize as a beckoning gesture.”

19.     Smarter than your average… Black bears demonstrate they can count as well as primates – and prove it by using computers

Bears and racoons are pretty smart, I’ll give you that. It always bothered me that Yogi was referred to as “smarter than the average bear.” He might have been smarter than Boo-boo, but Boo-boo would talk, so I figure Boo-boo was pretty smart as well.

“In a series of tests involving three captive bears, researchers found the animals are able to differentiate between the number of dots shown to them on a screen.”–prove-using-computers.html

20.     Chinese companies pull out of US stock markets

Let me see: a near complete lack of transparency, outright fraud, and apparent Chinese government collusion. I wonder why investors aren’t paying up for US listed Chinese stocks? It’s good to see that Chinese banks are helping (likely) fraudulent companies repatriate their ownership, though. What could go wrong with that?

“Smaller companies also are withdrawing from U.S. exchanges. In a sign of official encouragement, a Chinese business magazine said a state bank has provided $1 billion in loans to help companies with listings abroad move them to domestic exchanges.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 10, 2012


I offer a welcome back to my earlier readers and an introduction for my new ones. My name is Brian Piccioni. 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.

If you want to be added to the email distribution list, send me an email at

Brian Piccioni


1.            Apple’s iCloud : Yes, I was hacked. Hard.

This should be a warning to businesses planning on using cloud services of any kind. Not because they might be using a simple password, but because of the havoc which can be wrought when their accounts get hacked. If nothing else, it is worth speculating whether the system administrators for such services will be located in the lowest cost jurisdictions.

“At 4:50 PM, someone got into my iCloud account, … At 5:00 PM, they remote wiped my iPhone. At 5:01 PM, they remote wiped my iPad. At 5:05, they remote wiped my MacBook Air.”

One of many follow ups:,news-39345.html


2.            Authors Guild Asks For $750 For Every Book Google Scans …

When I saw the headline I thought this was the cost for scanning a book and making it available online. It is not: they are simply scanning the books to make them searchable, something that could actually increase demand for the books. IP lawyers know an opportunity (for litigation) when they see one.

“Basically, Google points out that it’s creating an index of everything in the books, not acting as a substitute for the books. Thus, the purpose serves to make useful information more widely available (which likely can increase the demand for the books, by helping users find new books). Not surprisingly, I find the arguments in favor of fair use compelling (and have been saying so for many years — so much so that I was disappointed when Google first tried to settle this case, rather than standing behind its fair use claims).”


3.            Samsung boosts Android to 68.1 percent smartphone market share in latest IDC figures

Of course as a single vendor, Apple is clearly the leader. Nonetheless, one fairly absolute rule of technology nowadays is ‘open standards win’. This doesn’t necessarily mean open source, however, the more open the better. In any event, the challenge faced by Android app developers vs. iPhone is the heterogeneous hardware environment, meaning a lot more testing on miscellaneous platforms. Alas, it seems clear RIM is doomed as they have both a tiny market share and an heterogeneous hardware environment.

“Some 68.1 percent of smartphones shipped in the second quarter of this year were powered by Android, a jump of more than 15 percent since last quarter, according to new figures released by research firm IDC. The increase has been driven primarily by Korean manufacturer Samsung, which shipped more Android smartphones in the quarter than the next seven vendors combined, and has cut significantly into Apple’s share of the market, with iOS dropping from 23 percent to 16.9 percent over the same period.”


4.            Samsung copied Apple: Who cares? Everyone’s doing it

The Apple v. Samsung patent suit is amusing for no other reason that Apple often pays tribute to other people’s technologies by copying or ‘improving’ them. Indeed, the lauded ‘retina display’ which is the focus of the latest iPad marketing campaign is actually Samsung technology. The US patent system is broken and it doesn’t look like it’ll even be fixed.

“Apple has chosen to pick on Samsung and sue it for deceiving customers because its copying was the most brazen and bold. In a way, its anger is justified. Samsung went so far in its attempts to compete with the iPhone that it made all of its app icons square and made its menus look almost exactly like Apple’s. Ask anyone familiar with Samsung’s phones and they’ll tell you that, for a while, they were so Apple-like that it was kind of silly. Android, in many ways, copies Apple’s early iPhone designs, but Samsung took it above and beyond good taste (if there is such a thing).”


5.            Every poor family may get a mobile

This is a very interesting initiative, and I don’t think it is just populist politics. The poor in India are really, really, poor and relatively disconnected from government services or participation in the broader community. This could change that.

“Sources in the PMO said the scheme—Har Hath Mein Phone—expected to be announced by PM Manmohan Singh on August 15, will not only aim to give away mobiles to around six million BPL households, but also provide 200 minutes of free local talk time.”


6.            3D printer builds ‘Magic Arms’ for two-year-old girl with joint disease

An ideal application for 3D printing: low volume production, a need to tailor the device as the child grows, and a desire for affordability.

“As Emma has grown up, she outgrew the first version of the exoskeleton. However, the 3D printer allows the researchers to input new specifications into a computer program and print larger parts as she grows older. It’s also handy for printing new sections of the exoskeleton when something happens to break. After Emma’s parents send the researchers a digital photograph of the broken piece, the newly printed piece can be dropped in the mail and delivered to Emma’s parents the next day.”


7.            Your Next Home May Be Constructed With A 3D Printer

This is an update on a story we carried a couple years ago with a few more approaches mentioned. This reminded me of a technology Edison developed to essentially pour a concrete house in an era when low cost housing was in great demand. One thing the US has a lot of is housing stock so we might see this commercialised in the developing world first.

“The first technology to emerge on the scene was a technology called Contour Crafting. It was invented by Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California. His system is essentially a giant 3D printer can construct a home in less than 24 hours. This isn’t just laying the foundations and building walls either. Contour Crafting would be able to lay down the plumbing as well.”


8.            Researchers Gain Information Advantage from Surprising Quantum Source

Don’t expect to see quantum computers in your PC any time soon. Besides the challenges associated with getting them to actually work, they are only suited to particular classes of computationally difficult problems like code breaking. That being said, this is an interesting approach.

“But now researchers realise that entanglement may not always be necessary. In the past few years, scientists have discovered examples of technologies that seem to gain a quantum advantage without entanglement. Researchers are left with the question, where does the quantum power come from?”


9.            Brain in a Dish Flies Plane

Not quite, but interesting nonetheless. Neural networks are incredibly good at control systems, though less so for actual computing. Consider the range of activities controlled by the neural network in a mosquito’s head which would be difficult to replicate with a supercomputer. That being said a biological neural network comes with numerous challenges. Much better would be a solid state one, likely controlled by memristors.

“A University of Florida scientist has created a living “brain” of cultured rat cells that now controls an F-22 fighter jet flight simulator.”


10.          UCF Nanoparticle Discovery Opens Door for Pharmaceuticals

I don’t know what the actual, direct utility of this process is, but one major challenge in nanoparticles and nanomaterials has been the high cost of production. Whether or not this process is a huge advance for this application, it may inspire a similar approach in other applications.

“The technique relies on heat to break molten fibers into spherical droplets. Imagine water dripping from a faucet. Glass fibers are perhaps best known as the cylindrical cables that transmit digital information over long distances.  For year, scientists have been looking for ways to improve the purity of glass fibers to allow for faster, disruption-free transmission of light waves.”


11.          Nvidia touts ascendancy in Android, Windows 8 tablets

The tech world, and tech investors and analysts in particular, chose their heroes and listen to their every word and the CEO of Nvidia is one of those heroes. However, the PC graphics industry is essentially moribund (as we had predicted about 10 years ago) as ‘good enough’ integrated graphics dominate the market. The same sort of thing will happen in the mobile world because tiny displays and limited power budgets mean the marginal utility of improved graphics is modest. This sets a lower bar for lesser vendors to compete against.

“We’re the only computer technology company that has made its way from the PC industry to the mobile industry.”



ARM Plotting Eight-core  Mali GPU for Mobile Devices


12.          Microsoft sticks to its guns, keeps Do Not Track on by default in IE10

This is interesting, albeit uncharacteristic for the likes of Microsoft. Perhaps they are mellowing in their old age or they believe a less user hostile market position is called for. The problem with ‘do not track’ is that it relies on advertisers to respect the setting and many won’t unless required to do so by law.

“Microsoft announced today that it hasn’t backed down from its contentious decision to enable Do Not Track by default in Internet Explorer 10. In a blog post from Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch, the company said that Windows 8 will inform users of the Do Not Track preference during the first run experience. Customers using the Express (default) settings will have Do Not Track turned on, and those using the Custom settings option will have the ability to turn it off.”


On a somewhat related note, this is now my default search engine. It ‘anonymizes’ my searches and tend to deliver high quality results.


13.          Software Runs the World: How Scared Should We Be That So Much of It Is So Bad?

This brief article just touches on the subject of bad software, which is more common than most people realize. Anybody who has ever had to work on other people’s software soon realizes much of it is poorly documented, badly designed, and full of potential problems. No doubt people who have looked at my software feel the same way. It surprising we don’t see even more disasters.

“The underlying problem here is that most software is not very good. Writing good software is hard. There are thousands of opportunities to make mistakes. More importantly, it’s difficult if not impossible to anticipate all the situations that a software program will be faced with, especially when–as was the case for both UBS and Knight–it is interacting with other software programs that are not under your control. It’s difficult to test software properly if you don’t know all the use cases that it’s going to have to support.”


14.          How Google Can Avert the Next Financial Crisis

When I saw the headline I was certain this had to be written by an economist – after all, only an economist would have such confidence in algorithms. However, it’s written by a theoretical physicist, which, in a way makes sense, because he expects the financial world to be predictive and rational. Of course, there is not a chance in hell every jurisdiction on the planet would enforce such disclosure (and banks would flock to the areas that do not). If, in the unlikely event that did happen, banks, hedge funds, insurance companies and the like would simply move assets and liabilities off balance sheet.

“Imagine a world in which banks and other financial institutions were legally required to disclose absolutely all of their assets and liabilities to central banks, which would in turn make that information public on a website. Regulators — indeed, anyone — would then be able to see the whole network and assess a bank’s situation in full clarity. Anyone so inclined could calculate measures such as DebtRank and assess how much any particular bank is contributing to potential financial instability.”


15.          Over 1,000,000 Torrents of Downloadable Books, Music, and Movies

The headline should read “Over 1,000,000 LEGAL Torrents …” which is really the point. Torrents are not just for piracy: they are also excellent for distributing massive amounts of information.

“The Internet Archive is now offering over 1,000,000 torrents including our live music concerts, the Prelinger movie collection, the librivox audio book collection, feature films, old time radio, lots and lots of books, and all new uploads from our patrons into Community collections (with more to follow).”


16.          Semico cuts 2012 chip market growth forecast

I don’t like to give any credibility to industry forecasters but the summary table at the end of the article is interesting (and amusing). Given the laughable spread of predictions, odds are somebody will be close to what actually happens. The reality is regardless of floods, earthquakes, locusts, and PC demand semiconductor industry growth has averaged GDP growth, more or less, for about 10 years now. There is no reason to believe this will change.

“Semico (Phoenix) had said earlier this year it expected the chip market to grow by 8 to 10 percent this year. The company said this week that at the beginning of the year it was more optimistic partly because of pent-up PC demand stemming from the flooding in Thailand last year.”


17.          TSMC to invest 276 million euro in Dutch chip machine developer ASML

It seems that the only way any progress will be made on 450 mm wafers is if the largest semiconductor companies – who are the only one who could afford the technologies – fund the development of the capital equipment required to make them. This is another sign the industry has peaked.

“Following Intel’s lead, contract chip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), is investing ¬838 million (US$1 billion) in Netherlands tools maker ASML to speed up the development of faster and more power-efficient chips while reducing manufacturing costs.”


18.          Global LED Lighting Market Focus Shifting to Asia under European Debt Crisis

Don’t know if it’s the debt crisis or the faltering economies, though the two are linked. LEDs save

money but they tend a cost a lot up front. Not the sort of purchase people and governments make in times of uncertainty.

“As for the outlook for 2H12, with the stagnant global economy dampening the end market and many large-scale lighting projects have reaching a halt, most export companies turned to on-going mid-scale and small-scale lighting projects and the commercial lighting market. On the other hand, large-scale LED lighting market demand will depend on the bidding project market in China in 2H12.”

The parent URL has a price tracking feature, which might be of interest


19.          Return of the Wolf ‘People Don’t Need to Be Afraid’

Germans tend to be keen environmentalists and support virtually any ‘green’ initiative. They are also not ashamed to criticise other countries for their environmental records. Imagine, therefore, what the German position would be about endangered wolves in Canada would be. The re-extinction of bears in Bavaria ( or the potential re-extinction of wolves in northern Germany is another matter.

“Late last month, the presence of a lone wolf was verified in the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein, where the last of its kind is believed to have been killed in 1820, the state Environment Ministry reported.”


20.          Disinformation flies in Syria’s growing cyber war

Governments and corporations have learned how to manipulate social media as well as they have traditional media. It is interesting to see how quickly a negative comment about a dictator gets shouted down, and seems clear that some discourse is ‘helped’ by professionals.

“On Sunday, it was a hijacked Reuters twitter feed trying to create the impression of a rebel collapse in Aleppo. On Monday, it was another account purporting to be a Russian diplomat announcing the death in Damascus of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”



The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 3, 2012


I offer a welcome back to my earlier readers and an introduction for my new ones. My name is Brian Piccioni. 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.

Feel free to pass this list on. I can be contacted at


Brian Piccioni



1. Bold plan: opening 1,000 MHz of federal spectrum to WiFi-style sharing

This initiative shows some imagination. The US military and other federal agencies have vast allocation of spectrum, most of which is unused and off limits. Given the size and population of the US, and the demand for various wireless services, this creates an artificial shortage. Of course, the licensing as it stands itself is probably obsolete given rapid evolution of modern modulation techniques (and I’m not talking about ‘Vortex Beams’ – Item 3).

“The report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) says the “traditional practice of clearing and reallocating portions of the spectrum used by Federal agencies is not a sustainable model.” Instead, spectrum should be shared. For example, the government might need a chunk of spectrum for communications and radar systems in certain places and at certain times—but “that spectrum can be freed up for commercial purposes at other times and places while respecting the paramount needs of the Federal system.”


2. The Power of the Unlicensed Economy

Not quite more of the same, but an indication of what could happen if spectrum were made more widely available. Good for all – except entrenched license holders.

“Talking advantage of the freedom offered by unlicensed spectrum access, one quarter of the world’s households and tens of millions of businesses have deployed Wi-Fi networks to deliver broadband Internet access. The scale of this deployment is almost incredible. The combined capacity of the world’s Wi-Fi access points is at least 30 times greater than that of all cellular data networks. Wi-Fi carries substantially more traffic from PCs and laptops than wired connections and more traffic from smartphones and tablets than 3G or 4G networks. The economic gain is commensurately large. Wi-Fi enhances the annual economic value of fixed broadband connections by up to $99 billion.”


3. Researchers demonstrate that multiple channels can be sent over the same frequency by twisting radio waves

It’s a bit early to short your favorite spectrum play, but I should note that spread spectrum technology was also impossible to implement when patented, yet you can buy a WiFi device for a couple dollars today. Shortage creates need and thence invention.

“It does sound a bit far-fetched, but thankfully this isn’t just a hypothetical solution. The researchers have just been published in the New Journal of Physics, where they discuss the findings of a proof-of-concept experiment that they performed in Venice last summer. The team transmitted two signals, one without any spin and another with a spin to two different receivers. Both signals were sent in the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band over a distance of 442 meters.”



4. Gorilla Youngsters Seen Dismantling Poachers’ Traps—A First

I recently heard Neil deGrasse Tyson comment that every generation of scientist who studies animal intelligence conclude that animals are smarter than the previous generation thought.

“On Tuesday tracker John Ndayambaje spotted a trap very close to the Kuryama gorilla clan. He moved in to deactivate the snare, but a silverback named Vubu grunted, cautioning Ndayambaje to stay away, Vecellio said.  Suddenly two juveniles—Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female; both about four years old—ran toward the trap. As Ndayambaje and a few tourists watched, Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.”


5. Unsafe Gun Safes Can Be Opened By A Three-Year Old

Some readers may skip this because the subject concerns guns. They should not: we are increasingly encountering articles and “how to” videos on lock picking and so on. (See next article). What is interesting here is that many locks are pretty easily defeated and the Internet allows broad dissemination of the relevant facts. Of course, in this case, the author is an “investigative attorney” who, no doubt, has a financial incentive to establish a case of negligence. Nonetheless, he clearly does so.

“What we found in all of these designs was typical: all of the safes that are detailed in our report can be opened with a variety of simple implements and techniques. These included bouncing and rapping, paperclips, wires, drinking straws, screwdrivers, and brass strips that can be purchased from a hardware store. Ironically the three year old son of one of our team succeeded in opening two different Stack-On models and one AMSEC property safe.”


6. Can Some Code, $40 Arduino Unlock Millions Of Hotel Rooms?

Here is another example of how locks can just be a frame of mind. The shoddy designs of many “secure” products may create for major problems for the manufacturer, and also provide some opportunities for shorting a stock – provided the vulnerability is discovered before the company is sold ( By the way, not that it matters but there is nothing special about the fact he used an Arduino and you can pick one up for less than $20.

“When Brocious holds the Adruino up to a lock, it blinks green and mimics a card swipe. There was a lot of reverse engineering done in the protocols. The Arduino connects to the lock, determines the unique code for that lock, and issues the open command. It opens within 200 milliseconds.”


7. Nokia’s Bad Call on Smartphones

Post mortems on tech companies are interesting, even before the subject is, well, dead. They are usually quite similar: a top, innovative player forgets that it got where it got being innovative. They also become more concerned with retaining market share and really have no desire to disrupt their market. Finally, they drive the good engineers out while filling their ranks with managers. The examples below (a 1990s smartphone and tablet) are not really good ones because mobile bandwidth was much lower back then and useful mobile applications – beyond talk and text – require bandwidth.

“More than seven years before Apple. rolled out the iPhone, the Nokia team showed a phone with a color touch screen set above a single button. The device was shown locating a restaurant, playing a racing game and ordering lipstick. In the late 1990s, Nokia secretly developed another alluring product: a tablet computer with a wireless connection and touch screen—all features today of the hot-selling Apple iPad. Former Nokia designer Frank Nuovo says the company had prototypes that anticipated the iPhone. “Oh my God,” Mr. Nuovo says as he clicks through his old slides. “We had it completely nailed.””


8. Does Windows 8 succeed as a true tablet operating system?

It will take a long time for Microsoft to die, after all, not all the dinosaurs died the same day 65 million years ago. The revenue stream from Windows will probably go on for decades provided they come out with a new version every now and then. Of course, being a tech company, management will probably do its damnedest to fritter away cash on stupid acquisitions. This brings us to Windows 8, Microsoft’s attempt to launch a tablet operating system. Tablets are touch screen devices which are primarily useful for experiencing content whereas PCs are general purpose computers useful for a wide variety of applications. And never the twain shall meet. I believe Windows 8 will be a fiasco of epic proportions. Few tablet vendors will support it, and those who do won’t sell many tablets. PCs might ship with Windows 8, but who needs a touchscreen on a PC outside a kiosk?

“Windows 8 at its heart is a solid, well designed, touch-friendly operating system. Microsoft has shown that once it sets out to produce a touch-friendly operating system, it can do so well, which makes you wonder why it took the company so long. While Microsoft has been trying to crack the tablet market for almost twenty years now, Windows 8 is in some ways a version 1 product. It’s the first time Microsoft has actually built a tablet operating system with a genuine attempt at a touch interface (compared to previous efforts that attempted to make tablet users wrestle with the traditional desktop interface), and only the second time that Microsoft has built a genuine touch interface at all (the first being Windows Phone).”


9. Why does the IT industry continue to listen to Gartner?

I completely agree, though I don’t understand why he picks on Gartner. In my lengthy tenure as a tech analyst I came to realize that reports and, especially forecasts, from the likes of Gartner, iSuppli, and all other industry analysts aren’t worth a penny, let alone the thousands of dollars they charge for them. Unfortunately, investors and research directors want to see lots of charts and ‘independent’ forecasts in research reports because, well, let’s face it, charts and graphs make thing sound credible. Plus you can always blame it on the industry analyst

“Another day, another provocative research report from Gartner, which has a long track record of spectacularly wrong predictions. I’ve collected some of their greatest hits. Er, misses.”


10. IDC: Samsung increases smartphone lead over Apple as Nokia, RIM, and HTC flounder

But, since you probably like figures and graphs too, here’s a report you should be skeptical of – not because of content but because of the source. Of course ultra-mega patent troll Apple is suing Samsung for infringement (which is a hoot in itself) so maybe they’ll enjoin Samsung from further sales. Mind you, it is worth contemplating what would happen to Apple if Samsung decided to stop shipping the advanced technologies (in particular displays) used in Apple’s revolutionary products. Just saying.

“IDC’s figures reveal that Samsung’s smartphone shipments grew 172.8 percent year-over-year, giving the company an industry-leading 32.6 percent marketshare, almost double that of its nearest competitor. Apple was in second place, shipping an estimated 26 million iPhones for a 16.9 percent share of the market.”


11. Mystery Tug on Spacecraft Is Einstein’s ‘I Told You So’

It’s always a little frustrating to read something which suggests Einstein was wrong. Not because he got everything right – which, pretty much, he did. It’s the fact that the predictions of Relativity come as a matched set: you can’t be right about things to the limits of measurement and miss something like superluminal neutrinos. In any event, this article shows how remarkable the predictions of Relativity are.

“The story starts with the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes, which went past Jupiter and Saturn in the late 1970s and now are on their way out of the solar system. In the 1980s it became apparent that a mysterious force was slowing them down a little more than should have been expected from gravity of the Sun and planets. Was there an unknown planet or asteroid out there tugging on the spacecraft? Was it drag from interplanetary gas or dust? Something weird about the spacecraft? Or was something wrong in our calculation of gravity out there in the dark?”


12. ScienceShot: No Mother Needed

Nanotechnology – which is really a materials science – is a potential path to the third industrial revolution. I am not entirely sure mother of pearl has that many uses, but these techniques have significant potential for creating revolutionary designer materials. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that aluminum was more valuable than gold.

“For the first time, researchers have successfully grown artificial mother-of-pearl, the iridescent, multilayered material that lines the shells of mollusks such as abalone Haliotis tuberculata (above left). Several teams have tried—and failed—to create the material in the lab, and researchers have previously only been able to produce it by recrystallizing mother-of-pearl, also known as nacre, that had been extracted from shells. The previous attempts to make artificial nacre failed largely because the alternating layers of material didn’t hold together—sort of like plywood with bad glue.”


13. Cree Aims at LED Lighting Sweet Spot

This is a product release notice spun into a tech article, but it does allow a segue to talk about one of the few areas of technology with prospects for growth over the near term. Unfortunately, LED lighting does not provide the economic leverage offered by PCs and Smartphones: there are no “applications” beyond replacing less efficient lighting. Cree’s strategy of selling end products is a risky one over the long term as they are competing against their customers by offering lower margin (but higher ASP) products. This encourages competitors to seek out other suppliers, such as LumiLEDs.

“Even with good technical specs, new lighting technology faces challenges to being adopted widely. The construction industry tends to be slow to adopt new products, particularly if they have higher purchase prices, Trott notes.”


14. Raising the dead: Can a regular person repair a damaged hard drive?

I was hoping to get a step by step guide, even though ‘it depends’ is probably the answer to the question: how desperate are you? How much do you understand hardware? What is the mechanism of failure? The best offense is a good defense (regular backups) which, alas, I did not do prior to my laptop HDD packing it in a few months ago.

“This is a story of my efforts to repair the drive myself, my research into the question of whether or not users can repair modern hard drives, and the results of my efforts. If your drive is still detected in BIOS, you may be able to use software tools to retrieve your data. Here, we’re going to focus exclusively on hardware-related failures, and what your options are.”


15. Updated: Valeo makes your car engine hybrid

Interesting idea, but I suspect this is going to be a little trickier than they suggest. First, modern cars do not have a whole lot of places you can just sort of bolt an electric motor to – the days of swimming pool sized engine compartments are over. Second, you can’t just start applying loads willy nilly to an engine/transmission assembly and hope all the moving bits will sustain the stress. Third, there is a reason you go for high voltages when dealing with high output electric motors. If I could find more definitive information, I’m sure I could go on.

“Interviewed by French radio station Europe 1, Henri Trintignac, Valeo’s director of Electric Vehicle Activity, claimed that Valeo SA has developed an electrification solution for the powertrain, Hybrid4All, which enables car manufacturers to turn a traditional engine –diesel or gasoline- into a hybrid engine, at an affordable price by using simple and standardized components. Valeo claimed the “Hybrid4all” architecture is based on a compact motor generator which uses a low voltage electrical system (48V). Costs are thus reduced, making this solution more acceptable for the mass market.”


16. HP Memristors Will Reinvent Computer Memory ‘by 2014′

Nice title, but that’s not actually what the article says. It will be interesting to see what the parameters of these devices will be when they enter the market: how will they compare to traditional non-volatile memories in terms of cost, density, and performance. For what it is worth, I believe a revolutionary application of memristors would be in the development of neural networks because these devices have the potential to store an analog value in a non-volatile manner.

“HP is two and half years away from offering hardware that stores data with memristors, a new breed of electrical building-block that could lead to servers and other devices that are far more efficient than today’s machines, according to report citing one of the technology’s inventors.”


17. The End of Gun Control? (3D Printing related)

The topics of guns and gun control tend to become quite popular after mass shootings, so you get all kinds of idiots blathering on about the subject. It’s fine if you hold a position one way or the other. That being said, the parts printed out are not the ‘tricky bits’ and, actually, people have been making guns of various qualities in home workshops for a few centuries. The fact almost anybody can buy a complete AR15 (which is *not* an M-16) with little hassle in almost any gun store in the US means people don’t have to bother.

“So, can you print a gun? Yep, you can and that’s exactly what somebody with the alias “HaveBlue” did. To be accurate, HaveBlue didn’t print an entire gun, he printed a “receiver” for an AR-15 (better known as the military’s M16) at a cost of about $30 worth of materials.”


18. Student creates world’s fastest shoe with a printer

We’ll wait to see what happens whether it actually worksbefore calling it the world’s fastest shoe, but it is an example of the sort of things 3D printing would excel at. I’m surprised orthotics aren’t made this way “while you wait”.

“If someone told you they’d created the world’s fastest shoe, that’s an impressive feat in itself, but if they also told you it came from a printer, you’d be blown away, right? Well, that’s exactly what this young man from the Royal College of Art in London has claimed to have done. Engineer and designer Luc Fusaro has developed the prototype of a running shoe that can be uniquely sculpted to any athlete’s foot. It’s as light as a feather too, weighing in at 96 grams.”


19. The laser-powered bionic eye that gives 576-pixel grayscale vision to the blind

The laser-powered part is the least interesting part of the article – an inductive system makes a lot more sense. Bionics has a great deal of potential; through there are probably significant regulatory impediments. Given Moore’s Law, it won’t be long before 576 pixels become 60,000 pixels. Watch the video for a nod to “The Bionic Man”.

“The second bionic eye implant, the Bio-Retina developed by Nano Retina, is a whole lot more exciting. The Bio-Retina costs less — around the $60,000 mark — and instead of an external camera, the vision-restoring sensor is actually placed inside the eye, on top of the retina. The operation only takes 30 minutes and can be performed under local anesthetic.”


20. Free access to British scientific research within two years

This is long overdue, and a sign of the times. Science journals charge significant sums of money for articles for which they pay nothing (or, in many cases actually charge for publishing) and use the services of usually unpaid peer reviewers to edit and vet those same articles. Since much of the research is taxpayer funded, it’s hard to make a case for taxpayers and taxpayer funded institutions (schools and libraries) to then pay to view them.  What a racket.

“The move reflects a groundswell of support for “open access” publishing among academics who have long protested that journal publishers make large profits by locking research behind online paywalls. “If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn’t be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it,” Willetts said.”



Hello and Introduction

Why start a blog about technology strategies? Well, you’re supposed to “write about what you know”…and after spending more than 12 years as an electronics designer and 19 years as a sell side high tech equities analyst, this is what I know.

The tenure of the average sell side high tech analyst is almost always less than three years: it seems that you are either so good you get hired by a hedge fund, or so bad you get the boot pretty fast. That means that almost nobody has followed the sector, without interruption, for nearly two decades. That baseline gives you  insights that go much deeper than whether buying Facebook at the IPO would be a good idea or not. In my over 30 years in technology, I have worked on multiple technologies, covered many companies, in a wide variety of tech related businesses, and I have read the business plans of (literally) hundreds more. You learn things.

Every tech analyst starts out being a wild eyed optimist. If you are lucky — as I was– you start during a powerful bull market which means you end up making some good investment recommendations, despite your naïveté. If you are really lucky — as I also was — just when you start getting complacent about being a good analyst the market goes to hell and you understand the difference between good luck and good research. Nothing makes you realize how little you know about the stock market more than seeing all of your stocks go down at once. This phase often lasts two or three years, or more or less the entire career of most sell side tech analysts.

The second phase of my career was the ‘dot-com’ bubble – a phase of complete, and public, insanity in the capital markets. I would say a unique phase, but it seems that we endure market bubbles of one kind or another every few years now, which says something but I am not sure what. I had the combined good fortune and bad fortune to be at my most productive during the dot-com era. I realized it was madness, and while there is something empowering in believing you are the only sane person in the room, at the same time it is very, very stressful. In retrospect, despite the mistakes I made, it was a powerful experience. It showed me much about how readily money can corrupt “honest” people, how the media is a vapid follower of the crowd, and how little people actually understand about technology.

I would say that the final phase of my Bay Street career made me unduly cynical. Except that a) I was pretty cynical even before this phase, and b) ‘unduly’ suggests that I am more cynical than I needed to be, which isn’t true at all.

Since the bubble imploded in 2001, the same investors who were led to the slaughter by large brokerages during the “dot-com” era actually increased their business with them. Having paid trivial fines for their malfeasance, more and more brokers (and news services, industry research houses, and others) ‘off-shored’ research to low cost centers, because they understood that a veneer of quality was all you needed to keep the fees and commissions flowing. Even more incredibly, “growth stocks” that had stopped growing saw their valuations increase relative to earnings prospects.

I have spent decades trying to learn how technologies worked and how businesses worked; which strategies were doomed to failure regardless of execution and which ones stood a chance; and which technologies had high barriers to entry and which did not. In recent years, I saw Bay Street and Wall Street analysts spend most of their time guessing whether margins were going up, down, or sideways in quarterly guidance – and that seemed to be more important than understanding the outlook for the underlying business.

Over the years I have developed a number of rules of thumb, or principles, which did not particularly allow me to predict a company’s quarterly margins or short term share price. But they did allow me to figure out how a company’s actual business was going to do over time. Some of these are not necessarily investment related, and so I will caution readers not to use this blog as a source of stock advice. However, these observations may be of some interest to tech company investors, managers, and especially employees trying to figure out where their company is headed. I hope to discuss those principles over time using ‘real world’ examples where possible. I also hope to resurrect the ‘Geek’s Reading List’ a collection of links and commentary which was widely distributed throughout the tech and investment community.

Thanks for reading this. All comments are welcome.