The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 26th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 26th, 2012

Hello

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 brian@thegeeksreadinglist.com.

I blog at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

1.        AMD Faces Looming Cash Crunch Amid Quest for New Markets

When I got my first job as a financial analyst, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I had to be able to read and understand financial statements. You know – analyse financial stuff. This appears to be a lost art: not only has actual knowledge of industry been dropped as a prerequisite, and understanding of the impact of the business on finances appears optional, at least until management stresses it in a press release. For budding MBAs out there, note the comment about AMD CDS spreads and bond pricing. So much for the efficient markets hypothesis which underpins all finance theory.

“If the trend continues, cash levels may drop to $600 million by this time next year, according to an estimate by Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. That compares with the $1.1 billion in reserves the company said it requires, and a quarterly operating expense target of $450 million. AMD has $2.04 billion of debt. “I’d never been worried about cash flow; I am now worried,” said Stacy Rasgon, an analyst at Bernstein.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-25/amd-faces-looming-cash-crunch-amid-quest-for-new-markets-tech.html

2.        Combating fake chips by controlling supply chain

This is not a new problem: back in the 1980s I designed mobile phones, and a batch was completely dead. Turns out a tube of TI 74LS244s were actually National Semiconductor 74LS273s. And this was from a well-known distributor (still in business) who was either buying black market parts or who had invested in relabeling equipment.

“It is estimated that the actual cost of a failed semiconductor that makes its way into production – in any industry – can be more than 100 times the cost of the original component. That makes the bargain price – often 70 percent less than the “real thing” – look less and less attractive. No matter how hard the industry tries, it can’t get around that old adage: you get what you pay for.”

http://eetimes.com/design/military-aerospace-design/4399254/How-semiconductor-re-creation-reduces-counterfeit

3.        Fresh Windows, but Where’s the Start Button?

Most of the coverage of the release of Windows 8 has not been favorable. This is not surprising as the ‘Look and Feel’ of Windows has changed, and the major attraction of the operating system has been familiarity. Young folk today do not reject offhand changes to the user interface, as witnessed by the lack of ‘stickyness’ as new mobile platforms have merged: they just figure it out. Will Windows 8 be a ‘success’? Well, the PC market is in a replacement only mode, and nobody is going to buy a new PC in order to use Windows 8.

“Many of the familiar signposts from PCs of yore are gone in Microsoft’s new software, Windows 8, like the Start button for getting to programs and the drop-down menus that list their functions.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/22/technology/windows-staple-of-most-pcs-gets-a-major-makeover.html?hp

4.        Anatomy of a Solid-state Drive

A highly technical overview of SSD operation. I should note that, since SSD has only recently been a big market, issues like wear, ‘dissipation’, etc., have only relatively recently become priorities. Also, I know people have to work Apple’s leadership and/or influence into every tech article, but SSDs were well along the adoption curve before Apple ever had one in a product.

“Both the HDD, the core building block of nonvolatile storage in computer systems today, and the SSD are part of a class of storage called block devices. These devices use logical addressing to access data and abstract the physical media, using small, fixed, contiguous segments of bytes as the addressable unit. Each block device consists of three major parts: storage media, a controller for managing the media, and a host interface for accessing the media.”

http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2385276

5.        Cosmo Wenman’s Mind-Blowing Sculpture Made On A MakerBot

Well, it’s not actually a sculpture, but a replica of an actual sculpture. Still it shows what can be done, even with a consumer grade 3D printer if you have the time and patience. This could be the sort of thing museums use to display artwork and things such as fossils without risking damage.

“Since Cosmo aimed to make the pieces true-to-life and not scaled down, he had to slice them up into multiple pieces. This awesome photo shows the 29 unfinished blocks of the horse head before Cosmo went to work fusing them and adding the incredible bronze patina finish seen above.”

http://www.makerbot.com/blog/2012/10/20/cosmo-wenmans-mind-blowing-sculpture-made-on-a-makerbot/

6.        British engineers create petrol from air and water

They must have been handing out stupid pills in the UK this week. This story was all over the Internet and in many newspapers, all repeating the same silliness without the slightest trace of critical thinking. I swear.

“The technique involves extracting carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water, and combining them in a reactor with a catalyst to make methanol. The methanol is then converted into petrol. “It’s actually cleaner because it’s synthetic,” Peter Harrison, chief executive officer of AFS, said in an interview.”

http://www.newsdaily.com/stories/bre89i0v7-us-petrol/

7.        Difference Engine: End of the electric car?

More of the same as above, and from similar morons, though in this case the source is writing for the Economist. Fun fact: production of liquid nitrogen is costly as hell, from both a financial and energy perspective, and it evaporates really quickly no matter how well insulated the container. Does anybody bother to fact check anything anymore?

“The big difference is that a liquid-nitrogen car is likely to be considerably cheaper to build than an electric vehicle. For one thing, its engine does not have to cope with high temperatures—and could therefore be fabricated out of cheap alloys or even plastics.”

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2012/10/nitrogen-cycle?spc=scode&spv=xm&ah=9d7f7ab945510a56fa6d37c30b6f1709

8.        Italian court finds seismologists guilty of manslaughter

And we have a hat trick! I don’t know enough about the Italian legal system to be able to understand how this is possible but since courts have decided wireless causes cancer, why not this? Hopefully, this will be promptly overturned or a pardon will be issued and the law changed. In any event, Italians scientists will probably refuse to issue any comment regarding the future or face prosecution.

“At the end of a 13-month trial, six scientists and one government official have been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison. The verdict was based on how they assessed and communicated risk before the earthquake that hit the city of L’Aquila on 6 April 2009, killing 309 people.”

http://www.nature.com/news/italian-court-finds-seismologists-guilty-of-manslaughter-1.11640

9.        The New Cartographers: OpenStreetMap’s World Takeover

OpenStreetMap sure has grown, and it makes sense commercial interests would take advantage of its open-source content (as has been the case for Linux). It will be interesting to see what happens when commercial user violate the terms of the Open Source license, and they inevitably will (and most likely have). After all, piracy should work both ways.

“The tensions facing the community were on full display at OpenStreetMap’s annual “State of the Map USA” conference in Portland, Oregon from October 13 through 14, a frenzied, jam-packed series of over 50 presentations and countless other informal talks between avid geographers and programmers who sprawled over a few generally overcrowded rooms at the Oregon Convention Center, fueled by coffee (beer at night) and their boundless enthusiasm for using and improving the vast and increasingly vital public map.”

http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/10/openstreetmap-part-1-new-cartographers.php

10.   Increasing wireless network speed by 1000%, by replacing packets with algebra

This got a fair bit of coverage this week. It’s a proprietary technique, so I doubt any of the comments provide any insight as to what is going on. I suspect they are simply dealing with bad packets by not dialing back bandwidth. The 1000% figure is misleading, except to the extent that, by not dialing back the bandwidth unnecessarily, you lose less performance that you otherwise would.

“In essence, the innovation — called coded TCP — makes packet loss completely disappear. In wired networks, packet loss is incredibly rare, but in wireless networks it’s one of the biggest issues affecting throughput. According to Technology Review, MIT’s WiFi networks generally lose 2% of packets — while on a fast train, packet loss is nearer 5%.”

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/138424-increasing-wireless-network-speed-by-1000-by-replacing-packets-with-algebra#disqus_thread

11.   LG launches 84-inch “Ultra HD” TV

This is surprisingly affordable for an 84” set which won’t sell in significant volumes. Perhaps all future TV sets will be ‘Ultra HD’ the same way most all are ‘3D’ but it is highly unlikely Ultra HD content will ever become mainstream because most people can’t tell it from 1080p ‘normal’ HD.

“In addition to the high price barrier to entry, the problem with the new standard is that there are very few sources of content. Aside from very specialized pieces of content or equipment, the only real draw for Ultra HD sets is the ability to upscale 1080p media, and of course the promise that more content will be on the way soon.”

http://www.tgdaily.com/consumer-electronics-brief/67093-lg-launches-84-inch-ultra-hd-tv

12.   Why Amazon is within its rights to remove access to your Kindle books

Imagine, for a moment, you bought an umbrella from Walmart and one day they broke into your house and repossessed ‘their’ property. You would phone the police (though you would probably be within your rights to beat them with a baseball bat first). Not in the era of EULA and ‘Terms of Service’ – you don’t own what you buy, and the seller can take it back from you. One might be driven to piracy. Or this http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2012/10/drm-be-damned-how-to-protect-your-amazon-e-books-from-being-deleted/

“All content included in or made available through any Amazon Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, and data compilations is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws.”

http://www.zdnet.com/why-amazon-is-within-its-rights-to-remove-access-to-your-kindle-books-7000006385/

13.   Pay-what-you-want ebooks ‘bundle’ makes $1.1 m in two weeks

Speaking of ebooks, this caught my eye for a number of reasons. First, it works out to $84,000 per book, which seems like a lot, which is good for the authors. Second, it shows that DRM and piracy are not needed if the pricing model is appropriate. Personally, I don’t see the point of paying $9 for an ebook which I don’t own, and which has a $0 marginal cost of production, when I can buy the paperback for $10.  I’d happily pay an author a couple dollars or so for his work, which is probably more than he’d get from a publisher anyway.

“An experiment from major authors including Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, which allows readers to pay the price of their choice for a collection of ebooks, has shattered all expectations, racking up sales of more than $1.1m (£700,000) in under two weeks.”

www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/oct/23/pay-what-you-want-ebooks

14.   Is Europe’s Emissions Trading System Broken?

Let’s see now: there is a market price for an intangible asset (carbon credits) which can be manufactured through a variety of means ranging from bona fide to outright destructive (polluting the ocean with iron). For example, I might decide to plant trees and sell the associated carbon credits. Of course, I don’t plant trees – I plant seedlings, but I sell the credits for the whole, mature tree. Unfortunately, most seedlings die, and even more die if I get creative. No wonder the price the crashed.

“Europe’s carbon market is in deep trouble and it’s not just environmentalists sounding the alarm. Back in April, the CEO of Shell said that the European Union’s system for trading allowances for the emission of greenhouse gases was “in danger.” But that’s about as direct as anyone will get in this world of bureaucratese. Most simply talk of “price weakness” (meaning that emission credits are absurdly cheap), a desire for “long-term policy certainty” (the system needs a fix!), and the need to “restore confidence” (and the fix has to come fast!).”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/europe-looks-to-fix-problems-with-its-carbon-emissions-trading-system-a-863609.html

15.   Microcontroller Maniacs Rejoice: Arduino Finally Releases the 32-Bit Due

Whew! It’s about time the folks at Arduino released a high performance version of their open-source project. RaspberryPi is an interesting project but it is not open source and that presents all kinds of challenges. The one problem I see with the Due is the limited RAM space. Hopefully the device will have enough power to run an email client, which would expand its usability considerably.

“The heart of the Arduino Due is the Atmel SAM3X8E, an ARM Cortex-M3-based processor. And the board builds off the capabilities of this summer’s Arduino Leonardo release, offering two two micro USB ports — one for programming and communications and one that allows the Due to act as a client or host, allowing it to act as or utilize a USB mouse or keyboard.”

http://www.wired.com/design/2012/10/arduino-due/

16.   Flossie restored: Early computer back to life in Kent

This sort of thing should be encouraged, though most such machines were probably sent to the scrap heap long ago.

“The 20ft (6m) by 22ft machine was built to replace rows of clerks doing office work and featured in the 1974 James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun. Bought for £200 in 2003, it has 100th of the power of a smartphone.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-20031487

17.   New Lithium Si-Graphene Battery Material Opens Doors

It seems a breakthrough battery technology is announced every day and a breakthrough solar technology every second day. The only battery breakthrough I’ve seen make it to market is A123, which recently filed for bankruptcy.  One challenge with this approach is the cost of graphene ($200+ per gram) and other nanomaterials: a breakthrough in those manufacturing costs could open floodgates.

“For eight months CalBattery has been working with Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) to commercialize a novel lithium battery anode material for use with advanced cathode and electrolyte materials to achieve new levels of LIB performance. The work is showing extraordinary results. Independent full cell tests reveal unrivaled performance characteristics, with an energy density of 525WH/Kg and specific anode capacity 1,250mAh/g. In contrast, most commercial LIBs have an energy density of between 100-180WH/kg and a specific anode capacity of 325mAh/g.”

http://www.virtual-strategy.com/2012/10/26/new-lithium-si-graphene-battery-material-opens-doors

18.   CHAMP – Lights Out

I read the coverage of this ‘successful’ test of the latest high tech gadget, along with the accompanying jingoism, and I came to the conclusion the world (well, the US, actually) is beyond hope. Here we have an expensive, high tech weapon with can be defeated by chicken wire and aluminum foil. And the nation which spent (no doubt) billions to build it can’t defeat goat herders armed with assault rifles and home-made bombs. Don’t people realize actual belligerent’s electronics are already shielded?

“CHAMP approached its first target and fired a burst of High Power Microwaves at a two story building built on the test range. Inside rows of personal computers and electrical systems were turned on to gauge the effects of the powerful radio waves. Seconds later the PC monitors went dark and cheers erupted in the conference room. CHAMP had successfully knocked out the computer and electrical systems in the target building. Even the television cameras set up to record the test were knocked off line without collateral.”

http://www.boeing.com/Features/2012/10/bds_champ_10_22_12.html

19.   Anthropologist: Apple is a religion

Publisher of the Geek’s Reading List: Anthropology is a science. No – it isn’t, and neither is Apple a religion and the article gets it right on some level. Apple is a very effective marketing organization which has achieved ‘cult status’ the same way celebrities do. One the wrinkles show and droop sets in, people move on.

“Fundraising and struggling for the attentions of the young have tended to force them into indecision between rigidity and compromise. Perhaps this is one reason why the real and the bedraggled have increasingly turned to material things in order to dedicate their beliefs. There is something painfully unsurprising, therefore, in hearing that Dr. Kirsten Bell of the University of British Columbia believes that Apple is a cult-like religion.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-57540154-71/anthropologist-apple-is-a-religion/

20.   Napoleon’s Major Wardrobe Malfunction: An Introduction to Science XPlained

A good read but I think it is a silly theory: they just would have used string or something if their buttons disappeared and I doubt the buttons would have hit -30 (being close to the body). Plus, at least some of the survivors would have mentioned their defeat was because they couldn’t keep their pants on, rather than starvation, the cold, etc..

“As Ramirez points out, the bonding structure of tin atoms starts to change when temperatures drop below 56°F (13.2°C), and this process speeds up as the temperature decreases. Tin was the main metal used to make the buttons of French uniforms. As the temperature approached -30°C, the tin buttons may have turned to dust.”

http://bigthink.com/think-tank/napoleons-major-wardrobe-malfunction

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 18th, 2012

Hello

As many of you are aware, my dear son Albert Piccioni was struck and killed by a car while riding his bicycle home from Brock University two weeks ago. He was only 19 years old, and a great guy, and he will be deeply missed. He had many friends and was well liked. His parents and his brothers loved him deeply.  This has been an incredibly difficult time for our family. The grief is overwhelming and descends like a thick black cloud on everything. However, as a father, you have responsibilities, things have to get done. You just have to keep going.

A good friend suggested I try and move back into my routine and keep busy. Unfortunately, I have no work to go at this time, just winding up his estate, doing home renovations, and, I guess, this blog/newsletter.

Despite sadness and grief which only a parent could understand, I decided I would return to The Geek’s Reading List as soon as possible. I hope you will forgive me if my wit is a little duller, or my grammar is off.

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 brian@thegeeksreadinglist.com.

I blog at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

 

1.        This Is Not Your Parent’s CRTC: Commission Rejects the Bell – Astral Deal

Frankly I was astounded to hear this decision – the CRTC doing something right and in the public interest? What next? Of course, the situation in Canada is likely beyond repair: an oligopoly controls more or less all forms of communication: Internet access, wireless, TV content, distribution and production, newspapers, radio stations, magazines, and even some retail. This could be reversed in one stroke by allowing foreign completion. Then Bell, Rogers and the others would suffer the fate of all uncompetitive, bloated, operations. Mind you, what government would risk the hell storm of negative media coverage the concerned parties would unleash?

“Earlier today, the CRTC rejected Bell’s proposed acquisition of Astral. The quick, unanimous decision – the hearings wrapped up just over a month ago – leaves no doubt about CRTC chair Jean Pierre Blais’ top priority.”

http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6672/125/

2.        Samsung Creates New File System F2FS For Linux, Good News For Android

I firmly believe SSDs will displace HDDs in mainstream applications, probably in a couple years or so. Unfortunately, operating systems are forced to use SSDs as though they were still HDDs, similarly, SSD hardware interfaces remain dated in the late 1980s. Both will fall by the wayside, which will improve performance. This is an early move in that direction.

“F2FS is a new file system carefully designed for the NAND flash memory-based storage devices. We chose a log structure file system approach, but we tried to adapt it to the new form of storage. Also we remedy some known issues of the very old log structured file system, such as snowball effect of wandering tree and high cleaning overhead.”

http://www.muktware.com/4485/samsung-creates-new-file-system-f2fs-linux-good-news-android#.UHGj9VH8tIN

3.        Linus Torvalds Compares Hard Disks to Satan

Well, at least he didn’t say HDDs were worse than Hitler. Linus is an influential guy, so what he says has an impact. One thing about HDDs, however, it is nice to have a few terabytes in NAS so you can keep your stuff backed up.

“He says he only uses desktops and laptops that store data and applications on flash memory, the same stuff that holds information on your smartphone. Whereas hard drives store data on spinning platters, flash is a solid-state technology that can read and write information at significantly higher speeds.”

http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/10/linus-torvalds-hard-disks/

4.        Linux Foundation UEFI Secure Boot System for Open Source

To think there was a time when governments would sue Microsoft over preinstalled browsers. I guess, given the shenanigans of companies like Apple, adding a ‘security feature’ which makes it hard for users to install a free, more secure, and more efficient operating system on a piece of hardware they own is par for the course.

“The pre-bootloader will employ a “present user” test to ensure that it cannot be used as a vector for any type of UEFI malware to target secure systems. This pre-bootloader can be used either to boot a CD/DVD installer or LiveCD distribution or even boot an installed operating system in secure mode for any distribution that chooses to use it.  The process of obtaining a Microsoft signature will take a while, but once it is complete, the pre-bootloader will be placed on the Linux Foundation website for anyone to download and make use of.”

http://www.linuxfoundation.org/news-media/blogs/browse/2012/10/linux-foundation-uefi-secure-boot-system-open-source

5.        Disney’s magical vision calls for 3-D printed optical elements

This caught my eye because of the source: Disney. I am not sure about the appeal of the various devices shown, but the video is kind of cool.

“A research paper, “Printed Optics: 3D Printing of Embedded Optical Elements for Interactive Devices,” talks about explorations into 3-D printing with custom optical elements for interactive devices. As such, Disney Research is thinking toward a next-step in digital printing when one will print interactive objects on the fly. Authors of the paper, Karl D.D. Willis, Eric Brockmeyer, Scott E. Hudson, Ivan Poupyrev, are all focused on future printing techniques and applications.”

http://phys.org/news/2012-10-disney-magical-vision-d-optical.html

6.        Your Next Home May Be Constructed With A 3D Printer

“This is an update on ‘contour crafting’ technology which we have featured previously as ‘3D printed housing’. The effort is an updated version of an idea by Edison to manufacture concrete homes. Robotic assembly of housing makes a lot of sense, though it is probably only practical in advanced economies due to the need for the skills to maintain the equipment. My house is almost completely concrete construction, though it uses Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF), basically big Styrofoam blocks. A robot could assemble and fill those as well.”

http://www.webpronews.com/your-next-home-may-be-constructed-with-a-3d-printer-2012-07

7.        3D Printing Is The New Personal Computing

No it is not. 3D printing and other additive manufacturing techniques will have a profound impact on a number of industries and activities, however, it will never become as ubiquitous as the PC. I say this as someone who wire wrapped his first computer in the late 1970s, and who expects to own a 3D printer in the near future. Realistically, the problem is that fewer and fewer people have any interest in making things, let alone how things work.

“When personal computing was in its salad days in the late 1970s, it was a fringe interest for weirdos with beards. While it had its share of true believers who envisioned a world with a computer in every home and school, there were just as many skeptics asking the question, “What is this and who is it for?””

www.businessinsider.com/3d-printing-future-2012-10#ixzz29hQc1YUW

8.        How to develop Z-Wave devices

I had not heard of Z-Wave before this article, and I have to say I am not clear on what the benefits are relative to Zigbee. Nonetheless, some readers might find the article interesting.

“Z-Wave is an international standard for wireless communication in smart homes. It is based on ITU G.9959 specification and defines all aspects of the communication to ensure interoperability of devices implementing the protocol. This article describes the development process for hardware, SoC firmware, host communication and the certification and gives a good overview how to get started developing products for the Z-Wave ecosystem.”

http://eetimes.com/design/smart-energy-design/4398177/How-to-develop-Z-Wave-devices

9.        New Sprint program replaces cell phone numbers with personal user names

This makes so much sense – and will doubtless be the future.  The approach is not a good one, however: what makes sense is an email address model, where a voice call simply gets transparently translated to whatever your telephone number is, and the lookup table adjusts as you change carriers or technologies (perhaps many times a day).

“Under the carrier’s new StarStar Me program, Sprint customers can replace their traditional phone numbers with a unique user name that can either be their real name or a user name of their choosing. Users participating in the program will have their numbers reset to two asterisk symbols followed by their unique name. So, for instance, the user name “BradR” would have a corresponding StarStar Me number of “**BRADR” or “**27237.””

http://www.bgr.com/2012/10/08/sprint-starstar-me-program-replaces-phone-numbers/

10.   The BlackBerry as Black Sheep

A bit over the top, but the reality is that modern technology is equal parts fashion and tech. Unfortunately for RIM, they lead in neither, and, setting aside divine intervention, this is not going to end well.

“Among the latest signs of the loss of cachet: One of the first steps Marissa Mayer took as Yahoo’s newly appointed chief executive to remake the company’s stodgy image was to trade in employees’ BlackBerrys for iPhones and Androids. BlackBerrys may still linger in Washington, Wall Street and the legal profession, but in Silicon Valley they are as rare as a necktie.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/technology/blackberry-becomes-a-source-of-shame-for-users.html?_r=2

11.   How Near-Universal Adoption of Mobile Phones Is Changing African Media

An interesting read regarding the impact of communications technology can have on the lives of people living in the developing world. Its remarkably consistent with what SR Telecom was saying in the 1990s. Pity they decided to get into the pay phone business.

“A mobile phone helps them to optimize their lives in the long term through better access to information and resources, including food.” Access to information has become as vital as water and electricity.”

http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2012/10/how-near-universal-adoption-of-mobile-phones-is-changing-african-media284.html

Link to the report

http://www.ictparliament.org/sites/default/files/cima-africa_digital_media_-_09-18-12.pdf

12.   Microsoft Surface prices to start at $499 or £399

This is a truly baffling move for Microsoft: you’d think the Zune debacle would have taught them that ‘me too’ pricing on a ‘me too’ product doesn’t work. It certainly is a lesson their Zune customers should not have forgotten. This is a product with no particular merit, despite the larger than iPad storage (most of the excess is occupied by Microsoft’s bloatware).

“Microsoft’s Surface tablet will be priced from $499 for a 32GB version in the US – and £399 in the UK – and go on sale on 26 October in eight countries including the UK, the company said on Tuesday.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/oct/16/microsoft-surface-price

13.   The Txtr Beagle Berlin Start-Up to Launch Ultra-Cheap E-Reader

I do hate it when articles refer to a subsidized price when discussing the ‘cost’ of a new gadget. This product has no chance in the market, unless they manage to convince publishers to price e-books realistically. In any event, as tablets get less and less expensive, the e-reader segment will simply disappear.

“Less e-book reader for less money. That’s the business model that Berlin-based start-up Txtr is counting on with the Beagle, the new e-reader it announced this week just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Beagle is incredibly light and will reportedly cost just €9.90 ($12.75) with a mobile-phone contract.”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/txtr-beagle-german-company-to-launch-e-reader-for-less-than-10-euros-a-860536.html

14.   Ultra High Definition officially replaces 4K

The transition from analogue standard definition TV to digital high definition TV was an important one for the broadcast industry, and, especially, the Consumer Electronics industry which invested billions in manufacturing capacity. Now that the market is mature, it makes sense they want to rekindle the magic. It’s not going to happen: except in the largest set sizes, most people wouldn’t see the difference. Plus, most of the content we watch is transcoded and, while technically HD, the content just isn’t there.

“To qualify as Ultra HD a display needs to have a resolution of at least 3,840 pixels horizontally and at least 2,160 pixels vertically, the CEA said. Additionally, the product will require at least one 4K-capable digital input and display 4K content natively without upconverting.”

http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-33199_7-57535570-221/ultra-high-definition-officially-replaces-4k/

15.   EU to put the screws on graphics cards

At first I thought this might be a parody or something, but it seems real. At least the EU is tackling the big problems. Hard to believe people put up with this sort of thing.

“Graphics card energy consumption has been rising steadily over the last couple of years and when graphics cards sporting two GPUs used more than 300 watts, the EU’s eyebrow was raised.”

http://news.techeye.net/chips/eu-to-put-the-screws-on-graphics-cards

16.   Hydrogen Cars: A Dream That Won’t Die

I wrote a report in 2004 which predicted that the “Hydrogen Economy” would not happen. The fundamental problem is one of physics and physical chemistry, not engineering: hydrogen must be manufactured and transported, and it is not amenable to either. While I believe there are many commercial applications for fuel cells, cars is not one of them. I would not change a word of that report. In any event, the dream may not die, but funding will eventually run out.

“Automakers are showing new interest because key problems with fuel cells—their limited capacity to convert hydrogen to electricity and their susceptibility to freezing—have largely been overcome in recent years. At the same time, the first mass-produced electric vehicles based on batteries—the fuel cell’s technological rival for the zero-emissions mantle—have seen sales slow because their range remains disappointing and their prices high.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429495/hydrogen-cars-a-dream-that-wont-die/

17.   Locksmiths Hate Geeks

Locks are largely a metal barrier. Seriously – why buy an expensive ‘un-pickable’ lock when your windows are made of glass? In any event, the Internet, and even Reddit, has a wealth of information and easy provides access to tools to learn what are amount to parlor tricks.

“A growing number of amateur lock picking enthusiasts are intimidating the professionals with their skill-a group comprised mainly of computer geeks who draw parallels between network hacking and lock busting. According to Paul Bentley, president of the Association of Ontario Locksmiths: “This is a skill that can do a lot of harm, that’s why we kind of protect it.””

http://gizmodo.com/5026429/locksmiths-hate-geeks

18.   Churchill Archive

I am a big Churchill fan and got really excited until I saw the subscription fees. I don’t really see how historical documents can be kept behind a pay wall. In any event, there is a lot of free and interesting stuff. Hell – Churchill’s shopping lists were probably more interesting than half of the stuff in the newspapers, though that’s not saying much these days.

http://www.churchillarchive.com/index

19.   Magnetic Microbots to Fight Cancer

Interesting stuff, especially given the Montreal angle. Of course, ‘microbots’ is a bit of an exaggeration, and we are likely many years away from a practical application in humans.

“Late one crisp October night in 2006, a hospital technician in Montreal slid the limp body of an anesthetized pig into the tube of a magnetic resonance imaging machine, or MRI. A catheter extended from a large blood vessel below its neck—a carotid artery. Into the catheter, a surgeon injected a steel bead slightly larger than the ball of a ballpoint pen.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/medical-robots/magnetic-microbots-to-fight-cancer

20.   Computer Viruses Are “Rampant” on Medical Devices in Hospitals

Rampant malware on medical devices? Ah – they mostly run Windows. That explains a lot. Now somebody needs to explain why potentially critical systems are running an incredibly insecure operating system. How do these things get approved?

“Computerized hospital equipment is increasingly vulnerable to malware infections, according to participants in a recent government panel. These infections can clog patient-monitoring equipment and other software systems, at times rendering the devices temporarily inoperable.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429616/computer-viruses-are-rampant-on-medical-devices/

21.   Researchers discover mice have complex singing skills – and use them to get girls

This is a fun article, and as the paper suggests, we are, in many ways, share more with mice than we’d like to think.

“Biologists believed any vocal abilities in mice were innate, but now they found that mice also possess a (rudimentary) motor control center in their brain, which works with the vocal cords and provides voluntary control over tune and pitch – surprisingly enough, this link isn’t present in chimps and monkeys.”

http://www.zmescience.com/science/biology/researchers-mouse-singing-tune-11102012/