The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 21, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 21, 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: next week’s Geeks List may be early or short as I am headed to Newfoundland to hunt moose. There will be no Geek’s List the week of October 5th.

1.        The Linux-Proof Processor that Nobody Wants

Some thoughts on Intel’s “Clover Trail won’t support Linux” announcement and Intel’s position in the mobile space. I agree with some of the points, in particular the fact the x86 architecture is extremely dated. Due to the need for backwards compatibility this imposes a considerable amount of overhead (which works out to transistor count) on x86 processors. Of course, there are advantages, namely, backwards compatibility and an homogenous hardware environment which allows for a vast software library. These are not necessarily keys to success in the mobile arena.

“Clover Trail is said to include power-management that will make the Atom run longer under Windows. It had better, since Atom currently provides about 1/4 of the power efficiency of the ARM processors that run IOS and Android devces. The details of Clover Trail’s power management won’t be disclosed to Linux developers. Power management isn’t magic, though – there is no great secret about shutting down hardware that isn’t being used. Other CPU manufacturers, and Intel itself, will provide similar power management to Linux on later chips.”

2.        HP exec: We’re in the post-PC era? Ha!

I know people disagree with my opinion that tablets are a different kind of thing from PCs and, therefore, tablets are not replacing PCs any more than mobile phones replaced PCs. However, this is a laughable comment coming from an executive of a company which announced, then unannounced, that it was exiting the PC business. More recently, there have been rumors HP is considering getting back into the mobile space. This company acts as though it is manic depressive.

“HP printing and personal systems group executive vice president Todd Bradley said in an interview with PC World that the notion PCs are declining as tablets take over is plain nonsense.”

3.        PCs used less than half of DRAM bits in Q2

I don’t lend much credence to industry research – iSupply or others – however this ‘feels’ more or less correct. More granularity on ‘Others’ would be nice, but that’ll probably cost you $5K for the full iSupply report.  What’s happened is the PC industry is more or less no longer growing, and, more significantly, demand for increased DRAM per PC has flatlined. There comes a time when enough is enough, as the hard disk industry will soon learn.

“The arrival of the post-PC era doesn’t mean that people will stop using personal computers, or even necessarily that the PC market will stop expanding. What the post-PC era does mean is that personal computers are not at the center of the technology universe anymore—and are seeing their hegemony over the electronics supply chain erode.”

4.        Hard disk drives vs. solid-state drives: Are SSDs finally worth the money?

I am not entirely sure I support the test methodology because caches can do funny things depending upon how you test them. Also, an OS could cache the SSD without too much difficulty, and that would skew things a fair bit. Regardless the conclusion is something I can agree with. It is even more start when you are looking at a desktop with SSD as the ‘boot/program storage drive’ (making it write mostly) and a second large HDD (or RAID array) for data storage.

“Perhaps the single biggest change, though, is price. In 2009, SSDs cost around $3 per gigabyte. That meant a 120GB SSD cost you more than $300. If you were paying $700 for a laptop, it wasn’t reasonable to expect to pay almost half that for a new drive.”

5.        Hardware is dead

A fun story, but I would not draw the same conclusions as the author seems to. Apple may sell iOS, but iOS is not, but all reports, that much better than Android, and Android is an open platform. If you don’t control the platform, you can’t get ‘rent’ from the software because any person with the requisite skills can sell the software, and what people use are the applications, not the OS. Migration of modern software across OSs is not that difficult. What can be challenging is supporting an heterogeneous hardware environment and it is hard to believe the $45 tablets are cross compatible, let alone well documented (or even documented). The only conclusion I can draw is that hyper profitability from tablets is going to prove fleeting.

I had heard that tablets in China had already reached low price points. You can buy a reasonable Android phone for $100 retail, and I wanted to see if I could find a $150 tablet. This consultant pointed me to a mall filled with hundreds of stalls selling nothing but tablets. I walked into the middle of the scrum to a random stall. I pointed to one of the devices on display and asked, “How much for this one?” 300 kuai. My Mandarin is a bit rusty, so I had to ask again. Slowly, the stall owner repeated renminbi 300 yuan ($45).

6.        Cloud Computing Essential for Small Businesses

This ‘blog post’ is really ‘advertorial’ planted on Reddit. Many of the ‘pro-cloud’ points could actually be flipped around: is your data more secure when it is managed by a third party you have no control over and with a potential single point of failure.

“Besides offering users access-from-anywhere capabilities for their precious documents, the cloud is vital for a company’s financial health. Outages may be caused by a variety of ways, ranging from hackers to in-company human error, making data crises impossible to predict and detrimental to companies who aren’t prepared. Businesses lose an average of $5,000 per minute in an outage, equating to $300,000 per hour. And with indirect losses such as customer drop-off and damage to credibility accounting for nearly two-thirds of downtime cost, ensuring your business’ data is protected makes financial sense.”

7.        iPhone 5 Carries $199 BOM, Virtual Teardown Reveals

I figure this might be of some interest to those who track Apple. It is interesting to note that the cost difference between 16G and 64G is entirely in the Flash memory and results in a $200 difference in retail pricing. A MicroSD slot (about $1) would result in similar benefit and many Android owners are discovering.

“The new iPhone 5 carries a bill of materials (BOM) of $199.00 for the low-end model with 16Gbytes of NAND flash memory, according to a preliminary virtual teardown conducted by the IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis Service. When the $8.00 manufacturing cost is added in, the cost to produce the iPhone 5 rises to $207.00. For the 32Gbyte version of the iPhone 5, the BOM cost increases to $209.00, while 64Gbyte version is estimated at $230.00, as presented in the table below.”$199-BOM-Virtual-Teardown-Reveals.aspx

8.        Vimeo ‘tip jar’ lets users pay creators for content

I figure this is how things will evolve, though I’d prefer the option of a prepaid card like the ones they sell at checkout counters because it is anonymous and you don’t have to deal with PayPal, Visa, or Mastercard.  The option of watching an advertisement to sponsor the work is also a viable option, especially if the sponsor can be matched by content or context with the video.

“The battle to monetise user generated content took another step forward today with the launch by Vimeo of a new “tip jar” feature. Available to anyone with a paid Vimeo account, it allows content creators to activate a button that will appear next to every video and allow viewers to donate anywhere from one to five hundred dollars by Credit Card or Paypal.”

9.        DIY lab equipment, courtesy of 3D printing

This is a perfect example of what 3D printers, in their current form are really good at: low volume production of otherwise expensive and hard to find products.

“With the prices of 3D printers dropping, laboratories at companies and universities have begun using them to build up research equipment. Even better, the printers themselves are often open source—meaning their designs are available and modifiable by end-users—and controlled by FOSS programs. Students in teaching-focused institutions can be involved in the process as well, providing hands-on instruction in design principles.”

10.   First 3-D Printing Store Opens In U.S.

I am not entirely sure the store is a good idea. Exposing more people to 3D printing probably is good business sense, but a ‘traveling roadshow’ which visits malls or whatever mught be a better use of resources.

“MakerBot, the unofficial leader of the hobbyist 3-D printing movement, is putting the finishing touches on a consumer store located in the posh Manhattan neighborhood of NoHo.”

11.   Makerbot Replicator 2

I wanted to put this announcement as a separate item because it looks like MakerBot is producing more polished and useable products. After all powder coated metal is bound to find more appeal to business users than plywood and the price is in line with a good quality laser printer or consumer PC from a few years ago. That being said, only certain things will fit into a cube 7.5” inches on a side. Still, many things will.

“There’s a new standard in desktop 3D printing. Our fourth generation machine isn’t just our best, it’s the best desktop 3D printer on the market. With a resolution capability of 100 microns and a massive 410 cubic inch build volume, the MakerBot Replicator™ 2 Desktop 3D Printer is the easiest, fastest, and most affordable tool for making professional quality models.”

12. A Stack Exchange To Prevent Bad Patents

This is a good idea: crowdsourcing the search for prior-art regarding inventions. It’s not an overstatement to say many patent which are being issued nowadays are for things which shouldn’t be patented because they are trivial or exist in prior art. Of course, proving prior art can be tricky, especially if it existed pre-Internet.  The problem for this type of approach would probably be in attracting knowledgeable people to participate so they should add a rewards scheme.

“The second lucky break is that we have a very good Director at the USPTO right now, David Kappos. Mr. Kappos, who came from IBM, realized that this provision gave the public an opportunity to help patent examiners identify prior art. But it’s not enough just to allow prior art submissions… you have to find a way to get the public involved in looking through patent applications and trying to find prior art that could prevent bogus claims.”

13.   Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than Thought, Scientists Say

Cool. Except the ‘exotic matter’ part, which makes it sound like ‘insert magic here’. At least they are thinking about it.

“An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.”


14.   Why It’s Never Mattered That America’s Schools ‘Lag’ Behind Other Countries

I correctly figured this would be yet another article confounding correlation and causation and arriving at the desired conclusion. A significant reason is addressed later in the article: the capacity to attract the best and brightest from around the world. History has shown that that is a trend which can reverse as economic fortunes shift.  And I believe the US educational system only devolved into its current state relatively recently, well after those scions of industry and science went through it. Note the misspelling of ‘wrangles’ in the quote.

“We do know where some of our best talent comes from: other countries. In some ways, the United States steals its way to economic superiority: it rangles the world’s brightest minds to immigrate. The U.S. holds roughly 17% of the world’s International students, compared to 2nd-place Britain (~12%) and far more than education powerhouses, Korea, Switzerland, and Sweden (all below 5%). A quarter of CEOs in technology and science are foreign born and 76 percent hold key positions in engineering, technology, and management, according to Stanford researcher and TechCrunch contributor, Vivek Wadhwa.”

15.   University Requires Students To Pay $180 For ‘Art History’ Text That Has No Photos Due To Copyright Problems

While students and their parents groan under the cost of tuition nobody seems to talk about textbooks. The prices have always been obscene but the market is now gamed such that used texts are no longer useable due to rapid edition changes, digital lock codes and so on. Of course the root of the problem lies with educators who don’t give a damn about textbook costs (some assign their own overpriced text) and governments which ignore the issue. One solution: provide incentive for the use of open source texts, and, in the case of pre-university education write and prepare you own. Seriously: how much has high school math changed in the past 70 years? Then, of course, there is the issue of how a copy of something which can’t be copyrighted somehow ends up copyrighted.

“Brent Ashley shares the absolutely crazy story of how his daughter, a student at OCAD University in Canada, is taking a class on “Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800” which has a textbook that is required for all students… which costs $180. Now, we all know that textbook prices are absolutely insane these days, but here’s where it gets crazier. The text — and, remember, this is an art textbook has no images because they couldn’t clear the copyrights.”

16.   Existing Technologies Could Cut Vehicle Fuel Use in Half

No kidding: but the secret to significant improvements in fuel economy lies mostly in weight reduction, or smaller cars, not exotic technological solutions. This is a trick ‘alternate energy’ vehicle proponents have used for years to provide dazzling efficiency albeit in an ultra-lightweight vehicle. Then there is the matter of increased use of modern diesel engines, at least in North America. In any event, consumers are going to buy what they want and the auto industry will game whatever vote-getting schemes the government thinks up.

“Gasoline and diesel vehicles will continue to dominate the marketplace over the next two decades, making up more than 90 percent of the global fleet in 2030, said the firm. But with the right mix of policies, conventional vehicles can cut fuel consumption in half in the next 20 years.”

17.   Rohm, Aqua Fairy and Kyoto U announced Compact, high-power hydrogen fuel cell for release in spring 2013

There is probably a sizeable market for this type of thing, though I’m not sure powering seismometers near volcanoes is a growth market. For smartphones and other gadgets the question becomes the cost of the fuel cell device and, in particular, the cost of the fuel packets. If priced right (calcium hydride should be real cheap) they could sell a lot of these.

“This fuel cell generates electricity by producing hydrogen on the spot. This is achieved through a chemical reaction between calcium hydride sheets and water. From a sheet with volume of less than 3 cc, this fuel cell can generate 5 Whr of electricity. It can be used for many purposes, from charging a smartphone, to providing back-up power in emergencies.”

18.   Quantum evolution

A surprisingly good and detailed write up some progress made in the field of quantum computing. It almost looks like the journalist actually knows what he is writing about, just like in the good old days when people covering science and technology actually understood science and technology. That being said it is worthwhile noting that only certain classes of computationally difficult problems would be best solved by quantum computing. Many of these will be in the domain of spies and thieves.

“By replacing selected silicon atoms with atoms of phosphorus, Morello and his colleague Andrew Dzurak have taken a step forward in a global race to build a computer using the weird laws that govern the physical world at the tiniest, quantum, scale.”

19.   Neil Young: Piracy Is ‘The New Radio,’ Way To Get Your Music Heard

These old comments got a lot of coverage over the past week, and, while I don’t completely agree with the loss/compression commentary (audiophiles can be really annoying) it shows that, for an old guy, he really gets it. Of course, it’s worth noting that the youth of today don’t listen to much radio, so the Internet, and ‘piracy’ is going to be the only way you are going ot get people to pay for your live performances.

“”It doesn’t affect me because I look at the internet as the new radio,” Young said in January. “I look at the radio as gone … Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around … That’s the radio. If you really want to hear it, let’s make it available, let them hear it, let them hear the 95 percent of it.”

20.   Ultra-HD Video of Curiosity Rover’s Landing Is the Best Yet

“Extrapolating the original Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) camera’s low-res four frames-per-second video, Canning boosted it up to 30 frames per second and rendered the footage in 1080p. By adding hundreds of motion-tracking and adjustment points, he was able to create a smoother ride and show off the most interesting features of the Martian surface.”

The video on YouTube.

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