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.”



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