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.

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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.”



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