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.”

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