The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 14, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 14, 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


Brian Piccioni

ps: sorry the list is a bit thin this week – most articles were recycled Apple PR garbage written by slack-jawed fanboyz and I can only take so much of that. Golly! It’s thin! Ugh.

1.        iPhone 5 Compared With Competitors

There was the usual hysterical coverage of the latest iYawn release that I could have done the whole Geek’s list on that topic alone. Unfortunately, most of the articles were more or least the usual puff pieces (the media, online and other, seem to believe they are merely marketing tools for Apple). The most controversial comment I heard on the news was that the ‘new’ connector can be installed upside down or right side up! This article is somewhat interesting, if only because it compares market leading devices. Of course the ‘price’ figures are nonsense, because these are subsidized prices.

“The iPhone 5 launches into a more challenging field of competitors than ever, and to give you some context about the iPhone 5 specifications compared with those of its chief competitors, we put the most important characteristics of each into this handy table.”

2.        Young Adults and Teens Lead Growth Among Smartphone Owners

Some interesting facts and figures, though I guess it matters how you define ‘smartphone’. I happen to believe the smartphone market is rapidly maturing – Europe is probably not far behind the US, if it’s not ahead. Of course, not everybody owns a tablet, but you have to wonder where the tech sector is going to find growth in a replacement only smartphone market.

“Overall, young adults are leading the growth in smartphone ownership in the U.S., with 74 percent of 25-34 year olds now owning smartphones, up from 59 percent in July 2011. Interestingly, teenagers between 13 and 17 years old demonstrated the most dramatic increases in smartphone adoption, with the majority of American teens (58%) owning a smartphone, compared to roughly a third (36%) of teens saying they owned a smartphone just a year ago.”

3.        Google Fiber Splits Along Kansas City’s Digital Divide

This provides an interesting example of the digital divide. As schools, and, indeed, life in general, increasingly rely on the Internet, and as broadband access remains expensive, the long term impact on the poor is bound to be negative over the longer term. I would like to point out that, while broadband costs remain high, the costs of providing broadband services should be declining in the same way as PC price/performance points have. We can thank the regulatory environment for that dichotomy.

“Google has a map publicly tracking which neighborhoods meet the goal. As of Friday afternoon, Kansas City, Missouri, looks divided pretty much straight down the middle. On the western half of the city, nearly all neighborhoods have turned green, indicating they’ve met the goal. To the east, most are still yellow, meaning they haven’t met the goal. Right down the middle between the two halves runs Troost Avenue, the city’s historical socioeconomic and racial dividing line. Based on the map generated by the signup data, Google’s project is the latest to fall short of bridging that gap.”

4.        Intel’s Core i3 NUC mini-boards set to hit market in October, power up hobbyists and OEMs

I have to wonder how long the marketing genius who thought this up will remain employed. Intel architecture computers are great for general purpose computing not embedded applications. Things like RaspberryPi and Beagleboard are great for embedded computing but not so much as PC. This new product is egregiously expensive and doesn’t do much.

“Intel has finalized the specs of its Next Unit of Computing (NUC) board, and announced it’ll go on sale in October for less than $400 with a case and power supply.”

5.        Southampton engineers a Raspberry Pi Supercomputer

The mystery for me is not that they built a ‘supercomputer’ (actually a cluster) but that they somehow managed to obtain 64 RaspberryPis! I’ve been waiting months!

“The whole system cost under £2,500 (excluding switches) and has a total of 64 processors and 1Tb of memory (16Gb SD cards for each Raspberry Pi). Professor Cox uses the free plug-in ‘Python Tools for Visual Studio’ to develop code for the Raspberry Pi.”

6.        Intel Confirms Decline of Server Giants HP, Dell, and IBM

An interesting piece, but just to clear up a few things, designing servers is not exactly rocket science nowadays (not like the good old days when I was a designer) and there is a good chance these things are sourced out of ODMs in either event. Furthermore, most all Intel, or high value added components, are ‘just in time’ because they sit in segregated inventory as Intel’s property until they are removed to be installed, minutes later, in the finished product.

“But just four years later, Bryant says, the landscape has completely changed. Today, she explains, eight server makers account for 75 percent of Intel’s server chip revenues, and at least one of those eight doesn’t even sell servers. It only makes servers for itself. “Google is something like number five on that list.””

7.        Intel and AMD Follow in Footsteps of Mysterious Google Switch

Not surprising that a purpose built networking technology would outperform general purpose technology. The choice for Intel and AMD is, do you go after a number of niches, albeit large ones, or hope to serve a broader market?

“The chipmakers are playing catch-up with their customers. The big data centers have been building their own switches and their own slimmed-down versions of the Ethernet network fabric for years, according to Andrew Feldman, manager of AMD’s Data Center Server Solutions group. He once sold networking gear to Google, back when he worked at a company called Force10 Networks. He says that over the past few years all of the big internet companies have been using specialized networking technology, or fabric.”

8.        IDF: Intel says Clover Trail will not work with Linux

The headline is not entirely accurate, but the fact remains that Intel is publicly stating that Intel will not support Linux on this particular variant of Atom. Presumably this speaks more for the deficiencies of Windows 8 than about the general direction of technology. After all, if an operating system needs special ‘hooks’ to manage power, and those ‘hooks’ are not available to a rival operating system, then you might say that Windows 8 s particularly power efficient. And I thought WinTel is long dead. Perhaps Intel is a bit concerned about Microsoft support for ARM.

“Intel has confirmed that it will not provide support for Linux on its Clover Trail Atom chip. Intel’s Clover Trail Atom processor can be seen in various nondescript laptops around IDF and the firm provided a lot of architectural details on the chip, confirming details such as dual-core and a number of power states. However Intel said Clover Trail “is a Windows 8 chip” and that “the chip cannot run Linux”.

9.        What will happen to AMD

I agree with most of the article, though I’d say AMD’s negative fortunes began to accelerate when it bought ATI, which was suicide by acquisition. To paraphrase an old war movie “for you the var is over!” I think the only Hail Mary available to AMD is hinted at in the final sentence: try to catch up with ARM by offering IP cores at a reasonable rate.

“The last year or so has shown that AMD is beaten and it knows it. Intel stole a march on the outfit with its Sandy Bridge range and while AMD was supposed to counter-punch with Bulldozer its technology really was not there.”

10.   No Duty to Secure Wi-Fi from BitTorrent Pirates, Judge Rules

This makes perfect sense, and suggests that would-be pirates ensure they do not secure their Wi-Fi connection because they can always claim, even if files are on their computers, that they were placed there by hackers or malware. Furthermore, as the comments note, even secure Wi-Fi ain’t that secure.

“In her verdict Judge Phyllis Hamilton sided with the defendant. AF Holdings has not articulated any basis for imposing on Hatfield a legal duty to prevent the infringement of AF Holdings’ copyrighted works, and the court is aware of none.”

11.   The Casio F91W Digital Watch: A Terrorist’s Best Friend?

I am hoping that this article is an example of the sort of silliness you see on the web from time to time. Not because I own this watch (I do own a very similar one) but because any digital watch with an alarm function can be made into a bomb and it’s easy to do. ‘Throwaway phones” are even easier, and, likely, a better bet.

“Back in 1995, Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed tried to blow up the Pope in Manila[2]. Ramzi tried to make a bomb, accidentally set his hotel room on fire, and fled. In his recovered laptop there were instructions for how to use a Casio F91w as a bomb’s timing device.”

12.   Lilliputian Fuel Cell Gadget Charger Ready to Grow Up

There is a definite need for things like this in the modern, mobile world. I don’t like the idea of special cartridges but I can see the appeal from an investor perspective. The idea is you get to sell consumables, but the flaw in the reasoning is that the product only has merit if the consumables are available everywhere. A refillable option would make more sense since butane for lighters is available pretty much anywhere anyhow. A pity they don’t mention cost or expected availability.

“Called the USB Mobile Power System, the device can provide between 10 and 14 charges for smart phones. It’s about the size of a deck of cards and is fueled by replaceable cartridges filled with butane, or lighter fluid.”

13.   Afternoon rain more likely over drier soils

The articles should probably be titled “Fundamental Assumption of Climate Models Incorrect”, but hey, I doubt such skepticism would have made it into Nature. The problem with computer models of any complexity is that they lack any predictive power. After all, if climate were deterministic given the state of knowledge, you’d only need one computer model as all the others would be redundant. And that computer model would, well, model the climate, which none actually do. It’s also worth noting that clouds have a considerable impact on the amount of sunlight reaching the earth and are also, apparently, implicated in precipitation.

“We find no evidence in our analysis of a positive feedback—that is, a preference for rain over wetter soils—at the spatial scale (50–100 kilometres) studied. In contrast, we find that a positive feedback of soil moisture on simulated precipitation does dominate in six state-of-the-art global weather and climate models—a difference that may contribute to excessive simulated droughts in large-scale models.”

14.   Organic food: no better for you, or the planet

Yes I know I am really cynical, but from the get go, ‘organic foods’ have a few things going against them, not the least of which is who really knows what is ‘organic’ and what is not. We use no pesticides or fertilizers in our 1 acre garden, but we probably would if our income depended on it because yields are much better with a bi of chemistry. Closely related to the question of purportedly organic foods is the ‘locavore’ trend: how does that work out if you have a local drought and you don’t have a distribution system in place?

“Organic crops seem to be no more nutritious than conventional ones, and are not necessarily great for the planet either.”

15.   Solar and wind energy may stabilise the power grid

This seems to be research on modeling and stress testing grids rather than the benefits of solar and wind energy as the headline suggests but I don’t want to buy the article to find out. Such modeling is bound to be a useful tool in grid design, though I’d suggest modeling a grid is easier than modeling human behavior. It is not surprising that some grid topologies are better than others, but I’d be suspicious about the headline claim because solar and wind generation is strongly regionally correlated which means you lose a lot of production all over the place all at once. Then it gets dark.

“In contrast, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen have now discovered in model simulations that consumers and decentralized generators may rather easily self-synchronise. Their results also indicate that a failure of an individual supply line in the decentralized grid less likely implies an outage in the network as a whole, and that care must be taken when adding new links: paradoxically, additional links can reduce the transmission capacity of the network as a whole.”

16.   Difference Engine: The PC all over again?

Having read the article I understand the title now, but at first I thought they were talking about Babbage’s ‘Difference Engine’. 3D printing will create some interesting challenges for patent and trademark protection. On the one hand if you are not manufacturing for resale there is no penalty with respect to patent infringement (royalties associated with no sale are exactly zero). On the other hand an exact representation of a patented or trademarked product may be argued to be necessarily placed in the public domain to describe what has been patented or trademarked.  That is, in fact, what a patent application does.

“In another instance, a couple of engineers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh created the CAD files for printing a kit of plug-in parts that allow toy construction sets from different makers to be interconnected. The patents on the various toys involved had long since expired, but any copyright involved still had decades to run. The object was to send “a shot across the bow” of any company that might try to control how their physical designs were copied, remixed or improved upon in future. “We don’t want to see what happened in music and film play out in the area of shapes,” one of the engineers told Forbes magazine.”

17.   World’s first color film footage discovered in England

This is the second most interesting discovery out of the UK this week (the first being the possible discovery of the remains of Richard III).  Apparently, while the camera worked, the projector could not display the images so that nobody, not even the inventor, has even seen these moving images. I suspect somebody who is skilled with video editing software would be able to improve them further.

“Turner patented his three-color process in 1899 with the support of American entrepreneur Charles Urban, but died of a heart attack just four years later, at the age of 29. Urban went on to expand upon Turner’s process, and, in 1909, successfully launched the two-color Kinemacolor system. Prior to Harvey’s discovery, Urban’s Kinemacolor films were considered to be the world’s earliest natural color footage.”

18.   Quantigraphic camera promises HDR eyesight from Father of AR

If you do any welding, as I do, this sort of thing would be a godsend: the arc is so bright reflection off your clothes can temporarily blind you (in fact, directly looking at the arc can literally blind you by sun burning your retina). Modern welding helmets are a bit more sophisticated than suggested below as they protect the eyes at all times, and switch from sunglasses to ‘very dark’ as soon as they detect an arc. The net result is you can never really see what you are doing, so this video is very, very, cool. I have been working on an idea for a much simpler (though probably not as effective) solution but I can’t figure out how to make a prototype without significant capital investment.

“Traditional welding helmets use a sheet of smoked glass for the eyepiece, cutting down on the dangerous glare from the welding process itself, but also reducing overall visibility. The HDRrchitecture system, instead, processes images coming from one or more cameras, rendering a Full HD, 30fps stream with the brighter elements stripped out but the core details retained, all in  real-time.”

19.   Iron ‘blueberries’ may be sign of microbial life on Mars

For what it is worth, I am pretty confident microbial life exists today on Mars. After all, it exists everywhere on earth we care to look. Finding it on planet 5 light-minutes away is bound to be challenging. If and when they do find Martian life, the question will be whether it has a common ancestor with Earth-life.

“These were originally thought to have provided the first evidence of liquid water on Mars, but their existence may hold an even more profound implication. Now researchers from the University of Western Australia and University of Nebraska have found that such iron-oxide spheroids, when they appear on Earth, are formed by microbes.

20.   Water Droplet Computing Needs No Electricity

I really should have a section along the lines of “are people really this ignorant of technology?” Fluid or hydraulic computers have been around for a long, long time. Like, for example, automatic transmissions of cars. Scientific American had an article about it in 1962 ( ).

“The idea of turning water droplets into digital bits — the basic unit of data transfer — came from experiments at Aalto University in Finland. When researchers observed water droplets bouncing off one another like billiard balls on a water-repellent surface, they realized they could guide the water droplets along water-repellent tracks.”


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