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


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

I blog at


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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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?””

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.”

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.””

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.”

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.”

Link to the report

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.””

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”


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