The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 30th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 30th, 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



1.        Microsoft Windows 8 makes lukewarm debut: sales tracker

I don’t understand how anybody with a brain could have expected Windows 8 to “revive slack PC sales”, though I did expect Windows 8 to be a flop. Hover, if these figures turn out to be correct, this is a very, very bad sign for the semiconductor industry overall.

“Consumer sales of Windows-powered personal computers fell 21 percent overall last month, figures released by a leading retail research firm showed on Thursday, indicating a lackluster debut for Microsoft Corp’s Windows 8 operating system. Many in the industry said Windows 8 might revive slack PC sales, but a report by NPD Group, which tracks computer sales weekly using data supplied by retailers, dampened those hopes.”

2.        Microsoft Surface RT tablet orders cut in half says supply chain source

As much as I predicted Windows 8 to be a flop, I simply can’t understand the appeal of a Surface RT Tablet: they are damned expensive, even for a tablet, and, as a late entrant don’t have much else going for them. Why would anybody pay top dollar for such a thing? In any event, tablet pricing is headed towards $150, not $1,000.

“Sometimes it seems Microsoft believes people will buy simply because it’s a Microsoft product. Sources in Microsoft’s upstream supply chain are claiming that orders for Surface RT tablets have been cut in half. The sources are claiming that the new operating system may not be performing as well as Microsoft expected on the market. Originally, Microsoft predicted that it would ship 4 million Surface RT devices by the end of 2012. However, the software giant has recently slashed that prediction to 2 million.”

3.        Windows 8 PCs finally move to on-chip product keys

This is not necessarily a bad move by Microsoft, however, it has nothing to do with the public interest – it has to do with reduction of piracy. The idea that this would somehow filter down to lower costs to consumers is laughable: as a monopoly, Microsoft regularly rasies prices, just because it can.

“The biggest benefit, however, could be reducing the cost of future versions of Windows. An integrated product key should make it more difficult for shady PC vendors to pilfer keys.”

4.        Dell releases powerful, well-supported Linux Ultrabook

As a company centered on the PC business, Dell is in a lot of trouble. I like the idea of a ‘supported’ Linux platform, but I don’t like the premium cost point. I could buy a Windows equivalent, install Ubuntu as a dual-boot option for less money.

“The laptop comes with Ubuntu Linux 12.04 LTS plus a few additions. Dell worked closely with Canonical and the various peripheral manufacturers to ensure that well-written, feature-complete drivers are available for all of the laptop’s hardware. Out of the box the laptop will just work. They also have their own PPA if you want to pull down the patches separately, either to reload the laptop or to use on a different machine.”

5.        Rumor: Intel to stop offering socketed desktop CPUs

If this is true – and it could be – this could cause major problems for the PC industry. High end Intel processors are expensive and pricing (or, more correctly) value is adjusted continuously. A socketed motherboard allows the manufacturer to remove the most expensive component, the CPU from segregated inventory, or even at point of sale, as the system is prepared for sale. If the devices were soldered, the manufacturer would have significant inventory risk and very carefully gauge demand for select models well in advance of shipment.

“PC Watch is talking about Broadwell, the 14-nm successor to Haswell (which will itself supplant Ivy Bridge next year). Reportedly, Broadwell will only be available in BGA, or ball-grid-array, variants. If I’m reading this right, you’ll only be able to buy Broadwell processors soldered onto motherboards—no more retail-boxed, easily interchangeable CPUs.”

6.        Why the ARM architecture is shaped the way it is

An interesting bit of history which sounds like the sort of things most engineers were up to back then. The bit about the 6502 having single clock memory access is silly, however :  it had a much slower clock and this mechanism presented challenges with DRAM (Dynamic RAM) because you really didn’t know when the address and control signals were stable.

“To understand why the ARM architecture and culture is shaped the way it is and is different to processor trailblazer Intel, let’s go back to a time before the formation of ARM; to Cambridge, England in the mid-to-late 1970s, in the early days of EE Times.”

7.        Droidfooding: After Years Of Giving Employees iPhones, Posters At Facebook HQ Beg Them To Test Android

It makes perfect sense for a web based business to want to ensure that its product runs well on all the major platforms. Why they waited this long is another question – maybe Facebook really doesn’t get mobile.

“That caused a disconnect, though. Most people do have to think about the cost of their mobile handset. They might not be perfect or have micron-precision industrial design, but Androids get the job done. They surf the web, manage email, provide maps, and offer access to Facebook. If the social network wants to give Android users the best experience, it needs a fair portion of the company testing its Android apps and brainstorming what could be done next with the operating system’s flexibility.”

8.        Is It Time To Conclude That Android Gadgets Are Bought By People Who Don’t Actually Do Anything With Them?

No it’s not and, in any event, it doesn’t matter, unless you are a merchant. In order to properly make sense of these data, you’d have to know 1) whether they are, in fact accurate; 2) what the demographics of the respective markets are; and 3) what devices represent the Android share in particular. Demographics is important because ‘Black Friday’ online shopping would be expected to concentrate in certain ages groups which may or may not correspond to device ownership. It may be that a significant number of Android users are not ‘power users’ and are content with non-cutting edge phones – after all the caricature of a ‘smartphone user’ addicted to their device is largely a marketing tool.

“In the U.S., Android is clubbing iPhone 53% to 34%. Given such a disparity in phone sales and usage, you would think that things people do with smartphones–smartphone-based activities–would be equally dominated by Android. But they aren’t. They’re not even equal. In fact, iPhone users completely dominate Internet-based smartphone activities.

9.        Wireless waves used to track travel times

This actually makes a surprising amount of sense – the idea could be applied to other applications such as store traffic, and so on.

“The City activated the Travel Time Information System along Deerfoot Trail on Monday morning. The system collects the publicly available data from Bluetooths to estimate the travel time and congestion between points along those roads and displays the information on overhead message boards to motorists.”

10.   Engineers pave the way towards 3D printing of personal electronics

This will come, and it will revolutionize the production of prototype circuit boards. However, as appropriate as a conductive polymer might be for existing 3D printers, it would have pretty limited applicability inn most electric circuits. What is needed is a printable metal.

“The University of Warwick researchers have created a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices using the latest generation of low-cost 3D printers designed for use by hobbyists and even in the home.”

11.   Staples to offer 3D printing in European stores

This could be an important development providing consumer and small business access to commercial grade 3D printers. Looking at the specs, however ( it is not clear to me what the printer actually is: it seems to have very modest Z-axis (height) capability, which suggests it may be better for making contoured surfaces than actual 3D models.

“Staples’ Easy 3D will offer consumers, product designers, architects, healthcare professionals, educators, students and others photo-realistic 3D printed products from Staples stores. To do a print job, customers upload electronic files to the Staples Office Center and pick up the models in nearby Staples stores, or have them shipped to their address.”

12.   Kickstarter, Trademarks and Lies

Kickstarter is an interesting idea, however, you can’t help but wonder how many of the projects are simply scams. I certainly understand the outrage felt here: Kickstarter should provide some form of ‘pull down’ process when claims are false, misleading, or outright fraudulent.

“A few weeks ago somebody launched a kickstarter for a project called smARtDUINO (notice the choice of lowercase/uppercase letters) that is supposed to be a better Arduino and all the rest. There is one of them every week so nothing new there. The first issue that struck me was that right in the project title they claim to be the “former ARDUINO’s manufacturer””

13.   Augmented Light Bulb Turns a Desk Into a Touch Screen

It sounds silly, but it’s not: the idea is, thank to Moore’s Law, you will be able to affordably cram a complete projection, camera, and user interface into something the size of a light bulb. You may not want to use this to control your PC, but maybe an outdoor sign, or even the lighting itself, might make sense.

“Powerful computers are becoming small and cheap enough to cram into all sorts of everyday objects. Natan Linder, a student at MIT’s Media Lab, thinks that fitting one inside a light bulb socket, together with a camera and projector, could provide a revolutionary new kind of interface—by turning any table or desk into a simple touch screen.”

14.   EcoSmart CR6 LED Recessed Light with Integrated Trim

I predicted the rise of white LED as a replacement lighting technology a number of years ago. It is here: I am renovating my living room and had to replace pot light trim, so I figured I’d give one of these a try. When on it is indistinguishable from an incandescent floodlight, and the integrated trim actually looks better. It is about 4x the cost of new trim plus a good compact fluorescent (which is slow to turn on), but it works better and should last much longer. The price is about 40% lower in the US, so I’ll be taking a road trip in a few days in order to stock up.

15.   Fast Forward To The Past: ‘Game-Changing’ Data-Processing Technology Tested By NASA Technologists

As the article suggests, analog processing is an old idea, and it has considerable merits in very specific types of applications. Unfortunately, is has much greater drawbacks such as a lack of ability to implement complex programs, limited noise immunity, and lack of memory function. In other words, great for docking spacecraft and other feedback related functions but not much else.

“The new technology is an analog-based microchip developed with significant support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Instead of relying on tiny switches or transistors that turn on and off, producing streams of ones and zeroes that computing systems then translate into something meaningful to users, the company’s new microchip is more like a dimmer switch. It can accept inputs and calculate outputs that are between zero and one, directly representing probabilities, or levels of certainty.”

16.   UMass Amherst Research Develops ‘Second Skin’ Military Fabric to Repel Chemical and Biological Agents

I always find these ‘high tech’ military make work projects interesting. Yes, it would be nice to have a uniform which magically protects against chemical and biological weapons. However, the guys the US tend to fight do have high tech weapons – they make do with bombs and small arms. And they win.

“UMass Amherst polymer scientists Kenneth Carter and James Watkins, collaborating with team leader Francesco Fornasiero of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), recently received a five-year $1.8 million grant to design ways to manufacture the new material as part of a $13 million project funded by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency. It’s estimated that the new uniforms could be deployed in the field in less than 10 years.”

17.   Your e-reader is watching

Your e-reader is spying on you. Do you really want somebody to go through everything you’ve read and know every part you have reread, or highlighted, of every book you have every consumed? Did you read Mein Kampf because you had neo-Nazi sympathies when you were 19, or because you wanted to understand the madness of the greatest criminal in history? Did you annotate Das Kapital to critique the roots of communism or because of Stalinist leanings?

“Before ebook readers became popular in 2010—when e-reader sales quadrupled within months—publishers had only one way of measuring a book’s success: sales. Back then, it was almost impossible to do detailed market research that didn’t involve direct feedback, either through letters to the publishers or reader surveys. But the information didn’t tell the whole story about what readers wanted to read, and they said nothing about how they read. Did they read the whole book, or lose interest after a few pages? Did they skip certain chapters? Did they highlight and revisit favourite passages? Now the makers of the Kobo, Kindle and Nook are collecting hard data about exactly how their customers read.”

What EULAs Lead to: Monty Python Liver Donation Bit (Gross)

18.   Micro fuel cells made of glass: Power for your iPad?

I like the idea of micro-fuel cells as a charger or backup solution because you can get a huge amount of electric power from a modest amount of fuel. Unfortunately, thus far, all the vendors I have seen have gone with a proprietary fuel cartridge. This is a Kamikaze business plan: people won’t buy them for want of fuel and retailers won’t stock the fuel for want of demand. It’ll only work if you use a common, preferably liquid, fuel and is user refillable.

“Major components of the new device are made of bulk metallic glasses (BMGs)—extremely pliable metal alloys that nonetheless are more durable than the metals typically used in micro fuel cells. BMGs can be finely shaped and molded using a comparatively efficient and inexpensive fabrication process akin to processes used in shaping plastics.”

19.   Casio’s touchscreen graphing calculator arrives in 2013, makes the TI-84+ look dated

It is funny to think that the calculator market should be a “battleground,” especially at the high end. There is no mention of pricing, but it had better be cheap: there is little difference between a low end tablet and a high end calculator other than a bit of software.

“Everything’s a battleground these days, isn’t it? Even the makers of humble graphing calculators can’t resist a scrap. Casio is now throwing down the gauntlet, announcing that its fx-CP400 will arrive shortly after rival TI’s color-screened TI-84+. Casio’s offering comes with a 4.8-inch, 320 x 528, stylus-driven display and can switch from vertical to horizontal modes at the touch of a button. If you’re planning on some illicit classroom movie-watching, however, then you should know it only has around 30MB of storage — but hey, that might be good enough for one thing.”

20.   What If NASA Could Figure Out the Math of a Workable Warp Drive?

Seriously? Zefram Cochrane hasn’t even been born yet …

“That’s why a new number, care of NASA physicist Harold White, is so stunning: Two weeks. Two weeks to Alpha Centauri, he told io9, if only we can travel by warping space-time. Of course, of course, easier said than done, but White thinks it’s possible, and he and a team at NASA are at the very early stages of making it so.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 24th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 24th, 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


1.         Windows 8 Is A Dud, Targets Not Reached Claims Insider

There has been a lots of news about Windows 8 adoption over the past couple weeks. Not much of it is favorable, which is not surprising, because people really don’t care about new operating systems any more: only a small portion of the population ever upgrades, and an even smaller number would buy a whole new PC just to get the latest OS.

“In Australia Microsoft’s PR Company Ogilvy & Mather and internal PR hacks are refusing to return calls about the struggling Windows 8 or report how sales of their Surface Tablet are going with insiders now tipping the return of a “start button” in an effort to try and lure consumers to upgrade. A big problem for Microsoft is that consumers are not buying new notebooks or hardware running Windows 8 which is creating issues between Microsoft and their partners such as Dell, HP, Toshiba, Acer and Asus.”

2.        Windows 8 sales ‘well below’ projections, report claims

More of the same, but, as usual, he just doesn’t get it: people see virtually no marginal benefit to a new version of Windows, so they just don’t give a damn. There isn’t much in the way of hype and flash (assuming Microsoft could muster either) which is going to change that.

“Sales of Windows 8 PCs are well below Microsoft’s internal projections and have been described inside the company as disappointing,” Paul Thurrott wrote on his Supersite For Windows today, citing a source inside Microsoft. The culprit? “Lackluster PC maker designs and availability,” according to Thurrott.”

3.        Loophole enables anyone to get a Windows 8 license for free

Given the complete lack of interest shown in Windows 8, one has to wonder if this isn’t an effort by Microsoft to increase license activation numbers.

“Copies of Windows 8 Pro are freely available from Microsoft’s website for anyone who wants to try out the operating system. Normally, the software would expire after 180 days, a period that is meant to allow Volume Licensing customers to automate and manage the activation process. But a loophole in the company’s Key Management System allows anyone to legitimately activate their copy of Windows 8 permanently, for free.”

4.        How Much Longer Can Tech’s Free Party Last?

The author of this short article gets a lot of things wrong. First, ‘free apps’ are often trivial in nature and you could not sell them. Second, a lot of really good open source software is free because it is a community project – venture capitalists do not factor in to its’ creation. Third, development tools nowadays are very powerful and very inexpensive, meaning somebody can slap together a pretty good project for little or no money. Finally, the business model of Apple, and others, is based upon the ‘pull’ created by free or inexpensive apps, creating a market for the hardware (and they skim a lot off the top of any actual app related revenue).

“It’s possible that venture capital firms will continue to support apps and software companies until they reach an audience and have to start thinking about making money. After all, inventing an app isn’t like inventing the toaster: The first connects on a global platform that already exists (the Internet, the smart phone) and the second requires an expensive and labor intensive global supply chain to build and ship across the world. As a result, you can build a global software product with just a handful of great engineers, which makes it much easier to sell your product for next to nothing.”

5.        As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living

More of the same – after all, most apps are essentially digital trivia, and there should be no more money in that than in blogging or web design. Eventually people will figure this out. One has to wonder how many Macbooks have been sold to support this boom/bust. As for the ‘app factories’ we so recently read about, let’s just say they likely do not represent a long term investment opportunity.

“The couple’s chosen field is so new it did not even exist a few years ago: writing software applications for mobile devices like the iPhone or iPad. Even as unemployment remained stubbornly high and the economy struggled to emerge from the recession’s shadow, the ranks of computer software engineers, including app writers, increased nearly 8 percent in 2010 to more than a million, according to the latest available government data for that category. These software engineers now outnumber farmers and have almost caught up with lawyers.”

6.        Why Owning Software or Data ‘No Longer Makes Sense’

So says the guy who works for SAP, in any event. I am not a big believer in ‘the cloud’ mostly because of the very factors cited in the brief article – plus security and the fact outsourcing usually goes to the lowest bidder, regardless of who you think you are dealing with. Regardless, the question you have to ask yourself is – if my software and data is core to my business, what happens when by cloud provider (or my business) goes off line?

“We are moving into a world that is evolving into a subscription economy,” says Erik Berggren, vice president of customer results and global research at Success Factors (an SAP company). “What you want both as a consumer and as a business user is the utility of something. You want a means of transportation. You want computing power. You want answers to your questions. You want to get something done really quickly in your business. That’s going to be the driving force.”

7.        Organic Light Emitting Diode to be used in the manufacture of soft screen phone

A misleading headline – OLED displays have been around for some time. Actual sale of a product with a flexible display is newsworthy, however. Over the long term, flexible displays may be made on a continuous (web) production line, driving costs to very low levels.

“Samsung began incremental production of smartphones able to bend the screen and even be folded into the pocket, it is learned that this innovative technology uses organiclight emitting diodes (OLEDs), they are very thin, you can place them on soft material such as plastic and metal foil. Samsung is not the only commercial company who uses Organic Light Emitting Diode to develop soft screen, it also includes: Sony Corporation of Japan and the South Korean LG company.”

8.        How To Enable 4G LTE On The Google Nexus 4

It is hard to believe this functionality is there, because the hardware cost of LTE support is not trivial, and yet why support it in hardware if you have to hack to support it in software? Perhaps Samsung is awaiting regulatory approval for a subsequent software upgrade.

“Reports surfaced this morning that the Nexus 4, Google’s latest flagship Android smartphone, supports LTE via a relatively easy software hack. After testing, it turns out that’s definitely true, so I’ll show you exactly how to enable it on your device. Fair warning: the Nexus 4 only supports LTE on the AWS band (1700 or 2100MHz), which is currently used for LTE networks in Canada, and for some areas served by T-Mobile’s fledgling 4G network.”

9.        Phone patents: An absurd battle

The author does not address the real problem, namely, that you can get a US patent on anything right now. It used to be that you had to show utility, novelty, and most significantly in the context of technology related patents ‘non-obviousness’. I recall, when I was designing my first cellphone, discovering that Motorola had a patent on a circuit which basically consisted of a flip-flop and an XOR gate, despite the fact that 99% of digital designers would have ‘discovered’ exactly the same solution. It you allow patents on trivia, you are going to be overwhelmed with patents and infringement.

“To get an idea of the size of the problem facing the likes of Apple and Samsung, consider this: O’Connor believes  – based on estimates from patent firm RPX – that there are about 250,000 active patents in the United States that may have some relevance to the activities of mobile device manufacturers out of a total of about 1.5 million active patents. That means that about 17% of all active patents in the United States are potentially patents on smartphone technology. ”

10.   NTSB drops ‘unacceptable’ BlackBerry for iPhone

It may be that US government agencies are simply dropping a ‘foreign’ product for a ‘domestic’ one. That being said, government accounts have been a major stronghold for RIM and they’ll be nearly impossible to win back.

“Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices “have been failing both at inopportune times and at an unacceptable rate,” the agency wrote in a procurement request issued last week.”

11.   How to Join the Open Wireless Movement

This movement has twin advantages: cheap Internet access (which should, ultimately drive down pricing of the paid for kind, and frustration of efforts to ‘clamp down’ on ‘piracy’ – after all, your honor, it wasn’t me but an anonymous user who downloaded those files.

“The talk that caught my attention, however, was Adi Kamdar’s presentation about the Electronic Frontier Foundations’s new campaign, The Open Wireless Movement. The Open Wireless Movement’s purpose is to encourage folks to open their personal networks to the public. The EFF partnered with some great organizations to get this off the ground.”

12.   Bad Reasoning: We Don’t Need More High Speed Internet Because People Don’t Use Fast Internet Now

This is the problem with a lot of decisions being made regarding telecommunications policy in general – many of the commentators simply don’t get it. Of course only a few people use a higher speed service: applications exploiting an infrastructure tend to come well after that infrastructure has been constructed. Who would have conceived of streaming video during the dial up era?

“This reasoning is faulty on many, many levels. First off, if you look at the full Booz report, almost every conclusion is exactly the opposite of what Worstall suggests. He seems to take that one paragraph out of context, and assume that because only a small percentage of people were taking advantage of “top speeds” it means that there’s no real demand for it and no economic benefit.”

13.   Training light to respond to light

The ability to deal with light without converting it to electricity has significant potential advantages in communications. Computational applications are probably a long way off.

“If you fire two electrons at one other, they interact; they’re charged particles. With photons, they literally fly straight through one another. In particular, what is necessary is some kind of nonlinear interaction—nonlinear optics, which was actually invented, so to speak, here at Harvard by Nicolaas Bloembergen and others, in the late ’60s, early ’70s.”

14.   How to Make Almost Anything

This is a rather good article from a surprising source, even though it gets off to a bad start. Of course commentators are more optimistic than those in the status quo: they are ignorant of reality and they can see opportunities where others can’t. Consider the quote below, how would it read if we substituted microwave oven for PC?

“Additive manufacturing has been widely hailed as a revolution, featured on the cover of publications from Wired to The Economist. This is, however, a curious sort of revolution, proclaimed more by its observers than its practitioners. In a well-equipped workshop, a 3-D printer might be used for about a quarter of the jobs, with other machines doing the rest. One reason is that the printers are slow, taking hours or even days to make things. Other computer-controlled tools can produce parts faster, or with finer features, or that are larger, lighter, or stronger. Glowing articles about 3-D printers read like the stories in the 1950s that proclaimed that microwave ovens were the future of cooking. Microwaves are convenient, but they don’t replace the rest of the kitchen.”

15.   The Rise and Fall of AMD

A good history, but I suspect they are being optimistic about the future. Like many tech companies, AMD’s downfall can be traced to a large, dumb, over-priced acquisition. The die was cast, and now that the PC industry is no longer a growth industry, their fate is sealed.

“AMD has long been subject of polarizing debate among technology enthusiasts. The chapters of its history provide ample ammunition for countless discussions and no small measure of rancour. Considering that it was once considered an equal to Intel, many wonder why AMD is failing today.”

16.   Death by a Billion Clicks

The consumer electronics retail sector witnessed a boom as a result of the advent of the PC and mobile space, and, most significantly for Best Buy, the HDTV revolution. Unfortunately, these  have all run their course, so who needs to go to a store when you know exactly what you need and don’t need to pay extra for ‘advice’ from a sales person who likely knows less than you do?

“Just a few years ago, Best Buy was hailed as one of the finest retailers in the world. It had vanquished its rival, Circuit City, and was likely selling more electronics per square foot than any other company. But by 2012 it was in tatters.”

17.   Star Trek Classroom: the next generation of school desks

I used to follow SMART Technologies, which was in the ‘ed-tech’ business. It’s bad enough when your customer is the government, even worse when said customer places a lot of things ahead of education in its priorities list. That being said, when following SMART I was exposed to all kinds of  ‘ed-tech’ research: I had never read such vacuous, unscientific, crap in all my life.

“New results from a 3-year project working with over 400 pupils, mostly 8-10 year olds, show that collaborative learning increases both fluency and flexibility in maths. It also shows that using an interactive ‘smart’ desk can have benefits over doing mathematics on paper.”

18.   The black box that could change the world

Because, if you want an objective and informed discussion about a company involved in quantum computing, you are going to read about it the Globe and Mail’s business section. Suffice it to say I’d wait for an actual impact before even imputing ‘world changing.’

“This nascent technology can handle information not just in binary format (zeros or ones) but harness the power of quantum mechanics to deploy zeros and ones at the same time. It has the potential to be millions of times more powerful than today’s supercomputers, solving complex problems in minutes that currently would take years.”

19.   Supercomputers face growing resilience problems

This sort of makes sense, but it is very analogous to the challenges faced with earlier computers such as ENIAC. Improved fault tolerant algorithms and, as the article describes, predicting failures before they happen are important counter measures.

“As supercomputers grow more powerful, they’ll also grow more vulnerable to failure, thanks to the increased amount of built-in componentry. A few researchers at the recent SC12 conference, held last week in Salt Lake City, offered possible solutions to this growing problem. Today’s high-performance computing (HPC) systems can have 100,000 nodes or more — with each node built from multiple components of memory, processors, buses and other circuitry. Statistically speaking, all these components will fail at some point, and they halt operations when they do so, said David Fiala, a Ph.D student at the North Carolina State University, during a talk at SC12.”

20.   Single photon could detect quantum-scale black holes

The interesting thing with this hypothesis is that it implies the universe is, essentially, integer: if the smallest feature can be defined, and the largest is determined by the speed of light and age of the universe, everything should be representable by integer coordinates!

“Space is not smooth: physicists think that on the quantum scale, it is composed of indivisible subunits, like the dots that make up a pointillist painting. This pixellated landscape is thought to seethe with black holes smaller than one trillionth of one trillionth of the diameter of a hydrogen atom, continuously popping in and out of existence.”

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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 14th, 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

1.        Moore’s Law Is Becoming Irrelevant

I read the headlines and thought “wow – the guy who runs ARM is an idiot”. Turn out he says nothing of the sort in the interview. Plus he actually makes some sense.

“For decades the computing business has been guided by Moore’s Law, which predicts the rate of improvements in computing power. You have a different focus. We have always been about efficiency, miles per gallon instead of top speed. That’s actually what matters. Mobile is an easy example: you know that phone is constrained because it’s battery powered.”

2.        Everspin launches new non-volatile magnetic RAM that’s 500 times faster than NAND flash

Despite the exciting headline, there have been lots of promising memory technologies announced, but only a tiny portion of those technologies ever make it to market. As things stand, MRAM has a long way to go before it offers the same densities as the technologies already on the market.

“Thus far, this holy grail remains elusive, but a practical MRAM (Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory) solution took a step towards fruition this week. Everspin has announced that it’s shipping the first 64Mb ST-MRAM in a DDR3-compatible module. These modules transfer data at DDR3-1600 clock rates, but access latencies are much lower than flash RAM, promising an overall 500x performance increase over conventional NAND.”

3.        3D Printer Photo Booth

Probably a good market opportunity, however, they’ll have to improve on the imaging time (which should be easy) and the rendering time (which will be a bit harder to do cost effectively).

“Tokyo’s stylish Harajuku district will soon be home to an unusual pop-up photo booth—customers will walk away not with photos, but with 3D printed figurines of themselves. The customer is first 3D scanned in a process that requires them to stand still for 15 minutes. A 3D model of the customer is then refined on a computer before output to a 3D printer. The figurines are available in sizes ranging from 4 to 8 inches. “

4.        NASA using 3D laser printing to create complex rocket parts

Just to show that 3D printing isn’t only for plastics.

“NASA engineers are using a 3D laser printing system to produce intricate metal parts such as rocket engine components for its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS). The method called “selective laser melting “ (SLM) promises to streamline fabrication and significantly reduce production costs.”

5.        How 3D printed cars were created to spare the priceless original while filming Skyfall

Skyfall is a pretty good movie, though there are some strange continuity screw ups. Still, this is an interesting application of 3D printing, and probably saved them a lot of model making money.

“Three replicas of the classic car were created using a large scale 3D printer for the filming of the latest installment from the spy series. The models double for the now priceless original vehicle from the 1960s in the film’s action scenes. The models were made by British firm Propshop Modelmakers Ltd, which specialise in the production of film props, and used Voxeljet to print the cars, the Daily mail reported.”

6.        Handset shipments declined 3% in Q3

It usually pays to treat industry research figures with caution, and ignore their analysis. Of course, Gartner focuses on sequential figures, rather than the more relevant year/year numbers. Needless to say, this sure looks like a maturing market. Of particular note to investors might be the decline of former titans: their day in the sun has passed, now it’s somebody else’s turn – for a while.

“While the third quarter marked the second consecutive quarter of year-over-year decline for the handset market, Gartner (Stamford, Conn.) said.”–in-Q3

7.        Google in talks with Dish to build wireless network, report says

This appears to be more or less consistent with other moves by Google (Google Fiber, Android) by which the company deploys a potentially disruptive service with a view to make most of its money more or less indirectly. This could be disruptive to the mobile industry, which is not exactly known for its operating efficiencies.

“Google has been in talks with satellite TV provider Dish Network over a possible partnership to build out a wireless service that would rival those from carriers such as AT&T and Sprint, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.”

8.        Wireless charging blazes path toward mainstream

Wireless charging is a pretty easy thing to do: basically you put one side of a transformer in a pad or desk or something, and the other side in a device. It’s not the most efficient thing in the world, but one a market develop, once a single, open, universal, standard has been established. By the way, this is not WiFi charging or similar nonsense – its basically ‘near contact’ wireless charging.

“Wireless charging cases, back covers, and pads are out in the market, and the Palm Pre memorably championed its Touchstone charging stand a while back, but the options are either too complicated, expensive, or, in the case of the Pre, not popular enough to really resonate with consumers. That’s poised to change over the next year, with momentum and a lot of big-name companies behind the idea. The wireless charging push could change the way consumers use their smartphones, and may go a long way toward alleviating the stress many power users feel when a low-battery warning signal pops up on their mobile device.”

9.        Kenyan information minister leads an IT revolution

Another story about how technology is improving the lives of Africans. Hopefully we’ll see an ‘African miracle’ in the not too distant future.

“Techies, geeks and innovators race one another to come up with the next big thing. They rush from meeting to meeting, work late, skip weekends. Every other day there’s a pitch night for tech start-ups, a creative Web workshop, or a meeting of mobile app developers.  The result is a surge in innovative Kenyan apps, most designed to work with the not-so-smart phones most Kenyans can afford.”,0,5648870,full.story

10.   Hold it! Don’t back up to a cloud until you’ve eyed up these figures

There has recently been some discussion as to why Canada is a lousy place for tech innovation. I figure a lot has to do with our 3rd world communications infrastructure. To be fair, 3rd world doesn’t cut it because it’s worse than that. This article indirectly shows the problem: the author is a Canadian, using Canadian bandwidth costs for his analysis. In many parts of the world, the argument simply would not hold water because costs would be so much lower, so, a Canadian entrepreneur would find cloud storage related projects less viable than somebody not living under a bloated, onerous, communications oligopoly.

“Looking at cloud storage, can you realistically push this kind of data over a WAN connection and get other work done at the same time? The answer is “it depends”. If you are doing “small storage” – defined by me as less than 100GB per month as of October 2012 – then the answer is most likely “yes, you can move that around without degrading your internet connectivity”. Until we start talking about fibre to the premises, most businesses are probably restricted to a cable or ADSL connection. An upstream of 2.5Mbps (the average for my hometown in Alberta, Canada) can push up 791GB per month.”

11.   Yes, the FBI and CIA can read your email. Here’s how

It is a bit amusing – almost quaint – that the author goes so deep into the legalities of snooping. It’s almost like he actually believes things work that way. Nah, his story is probably a CIA plant.

“The U.S. government — and likely your own government, for that matter — is either watching your online activity every minute of the day through automated methods and non-human eavesdropping techniques, or has the ability to dip in as and when it deems necessary — sometimes with a warrant, sometimes without. That tin-foil hat really isn’t going to help. Take it off, you look silly.”

12.   Misfolded protein transmits Parkinson’s from cell to cell

I was completely unaware what Parkinson’s was suspected as being a prion disease, which seems implied by this article. That being said, we haven’t made a lot of progress against prion diseases. Of course, Parkinson’s is far more common, so perhaps there would be a stronger effort to find a treatment.

“A team led by Virginia Lee, a neurobiologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, injected a misfolded synthetic version of the protein α-synuclein into the brains of normal mice and saw the key characteristics of Parkinson’s disease develop and progressively worsen. The study, published today in Science1, suggests that the disease is spread from one nerve cell to another by the malformed protein, rather than arising spontaneously in the cells.”

13.   Economic Analysis of Various Options of Electricity Generation – Taking into Account Health and Environmental Effects

A good read. Funny they cite the spread of malaria as a major negative health consequence of global warming. This is a flat out falsehood: malaria is a disease of poverty. Cities like Montreal and Moscow had major health issues associated with malaria, during much colder climes, before they developed. Australia wiped out the disease, but neighbours like Papua New Guinea are not so lucky.

“Some interesting conclusions are:

•  Coal, lignite and oil produce more extensive health risks than do other forms of energy

•  Hydro power and nuclear power produce health risks that are two orders of magnitude less than those resulting from coal and oil

•  Energy savings resulting from draughtproofing of Swedish buildings result in a greater number of deaths.”

14.   Desertec’s Promise of Solar Power for Europe Fades

Deserts are incredibly sensitive ecosystems, but, from a European perspective, at least the devastation isn’t being done in Europe, which seems to be all that matters. Assuming this were ever built, you could expect significant power losses across transmission lines, if those lines were ever built, which they would not be because environmentalists protest any plans for power lines.

“Supporters hailed the Desertec Industrial Initiative as the most ambitious solar energy project ever when it was founded in 2009. Major industrial backers pledged active involvement, politicians saw a win-win proposition and environmentalists fawned over Europe’s green energy future. For a projected budget of €400 billion ($560 billion), the venture was to pipe clean solar power from the Sahara Desert through a Mediterranean super-grid to energy-hungry European countries.”

15.   Reluctant heroes – An electric motor that does not need expensive rare-earth magnets

A couple things to start: first, reluctance motors have been in use for a long time, and, second, the only thing rare about rare earths is the fact most of the supply currently comes out of China. Since widespread use is fairly recent, the availability bottleneck won’t be around for long. In any event, because of the need for control electronics, all electric motors are getting ‘smarter’, which is making them more efficient.

“The device in question is known as a switched reluctance motor. The idea behind it is over 100 years old, but making a practical high-performance version suitable for vehicles has not been possible until recently. A combination of new motor designs and the advent of powerful, fast-switching semiconductor chips, which can be used to build more sophisticated versions of the electronic control systems required to operate a reluctance motor, is giving those motors a new spin.”

16.   First Teleportation from One Macroscopic Object to Another

Don’t short your railway stocks just yet – we are a long, long was off from teleportation. As the article shows, this has more potential as a communications or computing technology than anything else, at least at this point.

“These guys have teleported quantum information from ensemble of rubidium atoms to another ensemble of rubidium atoms over a distance of 150 metres using entangled photons. That’s the first time that anybody has performed teleportation from one macroscopic object to another.”

17.   Tim’s laptop service manuals

I wish I had heard of this before I tried to fix my netbook. This could be really useful.

“In the same vein as in my driver guide, I’ve started finding laptop service manuals and hosting them on my site. These are the professional, official documents published by the various laptop makers, either for their own technicians or for the use of the general public.”

18.   Now E-Textbooks Can Report Back on Students’ Reading Habits

The way it seems to works nowadays is, if you can, you should. I am not entirely sure I’d want to go to a school where ‘how to learn’ is an issue for anybody but me. Of course, this is just the benevolent spin on what they are doing – what other information are they gathering under ‘terms of service?’

“CourseSmart, which sells digital versions of textbooks by big publishers, announced on Wednesday a new tool to help professors and others measure students’ engagement with electronic course materials.”

19.   Why Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule is wrong

Malcolm Gladwell has a great thing going: he thinks up a crazy idea, finds 21 examples to support it (one per chapter) and voila: a best seller. Blink, for example – an absolutely awful book that people actually believe represents reality. Now, as for the 10,000 hour ‘rule’ as presented in ‘Outliers’ (which I didn’t read, because Gladwell and Dan Brown are two authors I will never again experience) is obvious nonsense, because, well, a lot of people never get good at anything.

“The rule tells us, a mere 10,000 hours of dedicated practice in your particular field is sufficient to bring out the best in you. Is this true? Let’s trace how the rule emerged.”

20.   How Enigma machine worked and why it was broken

Anybody with an interest in computing technology should know the story of Enigma and Ultra (The Ultra Secret by F.W. Winterbotham) . The ‘breaking’ of the Enigma code was not only key to allied victory, the technology developed during the war paved the way for modern computing.

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 7th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 7th, 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


1.        Apple Said to Be Exploring Switch From Intel for Mac

I think this is the second or third time Apple has been reported as thinking of switching from Intel to ARM. The ramifications of such a move would lie well beyond the processor swap. All the peripherals on the market today from GPUs to USB ports to SSD controllers are optimised for x86 and PC. So, either Apple would have to ‘wrap’ an ARM in a pseudo PC hardware shell, or they would have to develop all these products, drivers, etc..

“Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops, said three people with knowledge of the work, who asked to remain anonymous because the plans are confidential. Apple began using Intel chips for Macs in 2005.”

2.        Intel releases third-gen data center SSD, slashes price by 40%

Intel has been pushing the SSD envelope recently. This drive ain’t cheap – it’s about twice the price of a non-enterprise equivalent – however, given Moore’s Law, you’ll see the same specs in consumer SSDs at consumer prices in about a year. And the ‘electrolytic capacitors’ comment is nonsense.

“The DC S3700 write endurance is twice that of the SSD 710 series. An 800GB model, for example, can sustain 10 full drive writes per day, or 8TB, every day for five years, according to Peene. While not as applicable a metric, Intel also claims a meantime between failures (MBTF) prediction of 2 million hours.”

3.        Horizontal channels key to ultra-small 3D NAND

I have no idea whether this technology will ever become commercially available, but it sure looks interesting (actually, it kind of looks like core memory, which is even more interesting).

“The researchers say the technology not only is lower cost than conventional sub-20nm 2D NAND, it can provide 1 Tb of memory if further scaled to 25nm feature sizes. At that size the Macronix device would comprise only 32 layers, compared to 3D stackable NANDs with vertical channels that would need almost 100 layers to reach the same memory density.”

4.        TI chips said to simplify wireless charging

Wireless charging isn’t magic – provided the source and device are in close proximity, making, essentially, an air core transformer. This is what these devices are for, and such an approach has a convenience factor. Charging at a distance is another matter, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

“TI (Dallas) introduced its first single-chip wireless power receiver with an integrated battery charger, bq51050B, as well as a “free-position” transmitter IC said to expand the charge area by 400 percent, bq500410A. Both devices are compatible with the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC)’s Qi standard.”

5.        M2M In The Enterprise: Still ‘The First Inning’

M2M (Machine To Machine) applications have tremendous potential, and I’ve noted that prices for wireless connectivity (WiFi, Xbee, etc.) are rapidly trending to zero, which should accelerate the trend. How we’ll handle all that data is another matter.

“Axeda, a provider of cloud-based M2M software and services, surveyed 75 M2M industry leaders at its Axeda Connection 2012 conference in June. The respondents work into a variety of industries, including life sciences, healthcare, and technology. Two-thirds (67%) of survey respondents say they’re either interested in, or planning to integrate, M2M data with their back-end systems. However, only 11% have done so thus far.”

6.        3M’s first LED bulb uses TV tech to appeal to lighting Luddites

We haven’t had a LED item in while. Two things of note: the novel waveguide technology and the crazy things (and high costs) making a modern LED lamp backwards compatible with a socket designed in 1909 by Edison.

“Rather than using a more conventional design, the Advanced Light — the company’s first home bulb — uses lightguides in order to distribute the light generated inside. This comes with some interesting advantages, most importantly a design that looks a lot like a conventional incandescent bulb and one that casts a similar light pattern.”

7.        Gartner: Mobile Consumerization Now an ‘Unstoppable Force’ in IT

In general I warn that the prognostications of Gartner and the like have little or no predictive utility. That being said, the headline seems likely correct, which explains RIM’s predicament, and likely fate, pretty completely.

“Seventy percent of all personal computing devices sold this year will be smartphones or tablets — and the consumerization trend is now “an unstoppable force” hitting IT departments. Those are some of the indications of the huge and growing impact of mobile Relevant Products/Services computing in new data and projections from industry research firm Gartner.”

8.        Teardowns of iPad Mini and Kindle Fire HD reveal differing business models

Funny story: I am reconstructing my home network and picked up a 5 port gigabit Ethernet switch for $27, roughly one tenth of the cost per port of a 10 megabit 15 years ago. And the moral of the story is hardware prices trend to zero once features and performance plateau. And they are going to plateau pretty quickly in the tablet business.

“Teardowns of the Apple iPad Mini and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD by IHS iSuppli have revealed that the two devices cost almost the same amount to manufacture, despite the retail prices being significantly different.”

9.        Android Tablets Gain Momentum in the Third Quarter, Expectations Remain High for the Holiday Quarter, According to IDC

To be fair to Apple, they still have the dominant platform, though it is quite clear that Android is taking over the mobile device space. The reason is clear: a free (except for Microsoft’s patent extortion) and open (just as important) operating system is bound to attract a wide following among users and manufacturers provided the OS keeps up with user needs.

“Apple’s slowdown put a sizeable dent in the company’s commanding worldwide market tablet share, which slipped from 65.5% in 2Q12 to 50.4% in 3Q12. The remaining top five tablet vendors all gained share during the quarter as a result. Most notable was the impressive quarter turned out by Samsung—driven by its Galaxy Tab and Note 10.1. Samsung shipped 5.1 million tablets worldwide in 3Q12, up 115.0% from 2Q12; that’s an increase of 325.0% from 3Q11, when it shipped 1.2 million tablets.”

10.   When A Mouse Requires An Internet Connection, You’re Doing ‘Cloud’ Wrong

I have a Logitech Harmony Remote Control which uses what you would now call ‘the cloud’ to retrieve device configurations. But, seriously, a computer mouse with requires an Internet connection to install? What were they thinking?

“In a situation eerily similar to “always-on” DRM schemes, Razer mouse and keyboard purchasers are finding their high-end peripherals bricked by software that requires an internet connection to function.”

11.   Why The Cloud Is Not As Safe As It Sounds

Just to be clear, I don’t believe there is anything ‘safe’ about cloud services at all. You are paying somebody else to secure your information and, run the only part of your business which matters. That work will inevitably go to the lowest cost provider. Furthermore, you are assuming the cloud services provider’s employees are honest and competent, and that the company itself will not expose your data to governments or hackers.

“The speed and flexibility of hosting with Amazon is one of its biggest draws, but just because we’re sitting “safely” in the cloud now doesn’t mean AWS is immune to hurricanes or other server disasters. A few weeks ago, AWS experienced some difficulties, taking down what seemed like half the Internet in the process. The issue, once again, was traced back to one of Amazon’s massive data centers located in northern Virginia (which is actually on the ground and not in any sort of cloud at all) that lately has been prone to power outages and “performance issues,” temporarily killing major sites like Netflix, Instagram, and Reddit.”

12.   Flat World Knowledge to Drop Free Access to Textbooks

The traditional model in the tech world is to price high then lower prices to attract a wider audience. An infinite price increase is an unusual step, and I’d have to say “good luck with that!”

“Sometimes free costs too much. As of January 1, 2013, Flat World Knowledge, which used to describe itself as the world’s largest publisher of free and open textbooks online, will no longer offer content at no charge.”

13.   OLED TV panels’ breakout year delayed, but it’s coming

I used to think OLED was going to be a big deal, but the progress made in LCD is such that I really have doubts as to whether they’ll ever hit the commercial channel. They are good displays but LCD is so good and so cheap that display makers have neither the incentive nor the cash flow to product something that is more or less the same thing.

“Unfortunately, still struggling with low manufacturing yields and high prices, the two giants recently admitted the delivery of those technologies will be pushed out into 2013. NPD DisplaySearch now projects only 500 OLED TVs will ship in 2012.”

14.   Driverless cars are on the way. Here’s how not to regulate them.

The alternative fuels bit is pandering gibberish, however, I don’t really understand the outrage – if a driverless car runs over a cat, let alone a pedestrian, all hell will break loose and the lawyers will have a field day.

“As with California’s recently enacted law, Cheh’s bill requires that a licensed driver be present in the driver’s seat of these vehicles. While seemingly inconsequential, this effectively outlaws one of the more promising functions of autonomous vehicle technology: allowing disabled people to enjoy the personal mobility that most people take for granted. Google highlighted this benefit when one of its driverless cars drove a legally blind man to a Taco Bell.”

15.   Privacy in Ubuntu 12.10: Full Disk Encryption

It’s surprising this isn’t more commonly done, despite the likely performance penalty. I hope they are using secure encryption, beyond backdoors inserted by ‘the spooks’.

“When you install Ubuntu, now there’s a checkbox to “Encrypt the new Ubuntu installation for security.” Users who are new to GNU/Linux and just making the switch can easily have the same level of security against physical-access attacks as seasoned nerds.”

16.   Retractions stigmatize scientific fields study finds

This is not exactly a surprising result – first, it may be that some of the studies not being cited were pointing out that the results in the retracted paper don’t hold water. Or it might be that researchers were working in the same field and realized, absent the retracted paper, there was no point. In terms of the money – well, if you found out that the seminal work in skin transplants in mice was fraudulent (true story), would you be as ready to fund follow on research?

“Why should a retraction cost unaffiliated researchers in lost citations and cash? Azoulay and his colleagues reasoned that there could be at least two explanations for the ripple-effect: either scientists perceive that there is limited potential in a field besmirched by a retraction, or they are fearful of being tainted by association with a ‘contaminated’ area of study.”

17.   Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong

I spend a lot of time railing against the stupidity of journalists – usually with good reason – but every now and then there is an exception to be made, and this article is one such exception. I don’t think I have ever read such an in depth discussion of Chomsky’s scientific theories and perspectives, and I have to say my ignorance makes it a tough read. Pity he got the addition wrong, though.

“The undoing of Skinner’s grip on psychology is commonly marked by Chomsky’s 1967 critical review of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior, a book in which Skinner attempted to explain linguistic ability using behaviorist principles.”

18.   New At The Dentist: 3D Printing “Dental Crowns While You Wait”

This is a great idea, though I don’t know how the cost compares with other gadgets dentists buy. It might make sense for the manufacturer to lease the unit, with payback based on the number of crowns made. The limitations cited sound like a lack of imagination: you can always scan a mold, after all.

“Instead of making a mold and sending it to a lab for scanning, dentists are now using a small camera to scan the misshapen teeth directly. The digitized scan is then sent to an on-site milling machine that carves the crown from a block of porcelain – in about an hour. After about 15 minutes of preparation the crown is ready to be implanted. No need to walk around for two weeks, waiting, with a temporary filling. Read a few magazine articles while the crown’s prepared, and soon you’re on your way.”

19.   New Mastercard has LCD screen and keyboard

This is really frustrating – I had this idea about 10 years ago. Basically you would code in a ‘challenge’ question and read the encrypted response on the display. This would verify that you have the card in your hands. Sigh.

“The card has touch-sensitive buttons and the ability to create a “one-time password” – doing away with the need for a separate device sometimes needed to log in to online banking.”

20.   Cockatoo shows tool-making skills

As I always say, animals are smarter than we think. The fact this bird apparently figured this out spontaneously suggests an innate predisposition for tool use and problem solving.


“Researchers were unexpectedly alerted to Figaro’s tool-using ability while he was playing with a pebble and accidentally dropped it out of reach on the other side of his wire mesh enclosure.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 2nd, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 2nd, 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


1.        AMD announces ARM-based Opteron CPUs due to launch in 2014

Dementia is caused when enough brain cells are lost that the brain cannot form a coherent thought. Perhaps loss of executives explains AMD’s announcement they were going to distinguish themselves, as a fabless semiconductor company, by competing against themselves by launching an ARM based server platform. After all – anybody can license the same core.

“Amidst all the other news today, AMD also slipped in a small but potentially momentous announcement. Beginning in 2014, AMD will begin shipping Opteron server processors based on the low-power ARM architecture, in addition to the x86-based Opterons that it has been shipping for years.”

2.        Why the new Windows 8 won’t spur DRAM sales

Earth to iSupply: Windows releases have not had an impact on semiconductor sales for over 5 years. People no longer replace their PCs because of a new OS, and natural price declines in semiconductors offset the latest release of code-bloat. It’s amazing that people actually pay money for this sort of research.

“It’s been a familiar refrain: with every new Windows operating system that comes out, OEMs to end-users upgrade their systems to handle the new capabilities, including more memory. But not this time with Windows 8. In a departure from past iterations, Windows 8 will not cause any significant rise in DRAM unit shipments, predicts IHS iSuppli.”

3.        Intel’s 335 Series SSD reviewed

Some of the details in this report (bumping up against the silly SATA performance and 10x cost reduction in 4 years) are particularly interesting. The world is embracing SSDs, and their adoption will probably speed up when the antiquated SATA interface is dropped.

“Solid-state drives gotten a lot faster in the last few years. They’re already pushing up against the throughput ceiling of the 6Gbps Serial ATA interface, leaving mechanical hard drives in the dust. I can’t remember the last time we saw an HDD score better than an SSD in one of our performance tests.”

4.        The Hunt for an Affordable Hearing Aid

Eyeglasses and hearing aids are some of the greatest scams in the world. They cost a few dollars to make but are marked up a few thousand percent because, in most countries the distribution is ‘controlled’ through government enforced distribution channels. It turns out that hearing aid are best adjusted by users, and seriously, what ill will befall you if you get the wrong glasses – many prescriptions are flawed in any event.

“Last year, when my decade-old analog hearing aid started making popping sounds, I knew I had to replace it. But because hearing aids are so costly and generally aren’t covered by insurance, I had put it off. I soon learned that in the last 10 years, purchasing a hearing aid had become even more difficult and confusing than buying a new car — and almost as expensive.”

5.        Apple loses right to iPhone brand name in Mexico

You really have to question the legal advice Apple got on this one. I know the company is used to convincing people it invented things which have been on the market for years, but laying claim to a trademark which has been active and in use for years prior to you own – well, that’s stupid.

“A court in Mexico City handed down a ruling last Thursday denying Apple’s injunction request on the grounds that the iPhone brand is too phonetically similar to iFone, a brand belonging to a Mexican company that registered its name four years prior to Apple’s filing for the iPhone brand mark. The decision stems from a legal action that Apple initially filed in 2009 requesting that the company cease using the iFone brand in order to head off the possibility of consumer confusion.”

6.        Android now three of every four shipped smartphones

I don’t trust the number which come out of industry analysts such as IDC, and the predictions are generally less than useless. Nonetheless, the figures are probably directionally correct: there is a certain allure to a free operating system backed by a tech giant. Say what you will about the purported deficiencies of Android, the market has spoken.

“The numbers work out to 91.5 percent year-over-year growth, a time in which the overall market growth rate was 46.4 percent. So out of the 181.1 million smartphones shipped in the third quarter, 136 million of them were Android – a record for the OS – and Samsung was the dominant manufacturer.”

7.        Yahoo! To Ignore Do Not Track

Yes – it’s only said it is going to ignore Do Not Track for IE10, but we can safely assume that many advertising funded web businesses will ignore DNT because they can. After all, it is a voluntary standard, which is why we need laws, not ‘self-regulation’ and why you should use tools like Adblock and Ghostery (see below) to frustrate this pernicious activity.

“Ultimately, we believe that DNT must map to user intent — not to the intent of one browser creator, plug-in writer, or third-party software service. Therefore, although Yahoo! will continue to offer Ad Interest Manager and other tools, we will not recognize IE10’s default DNT signal on Yahoo! properties at this time.”

8.        Ghostery

A well rated plug in to stop a variety of privacy invading activities by sleazy companies like Yahoo!, Facebook, and others.

“Ghostery allows you to block scripts from companies that you don’t trust, delete local shared objects, and even block images and iframes. Ghostery puts your web privacy back in your hands.”

9.        Finland: Plan for universal 100Mbps service by 2015 on track

In contrast, in the broadband backwater which is Canada, my Internet Service provider Xplornet pulled the plug on me this week, despite having received a $400,000 government grant to deploy the service to my area, and despite me having invested about $2,000 to receive it. The difference appears to be the government of Finland is forward thinking.

“Three years into the program, Finnish government officials say they are well on the road to meeting that goal by providing subsidies mainly to local cooperatives that have sprung up to serve rural communities. To date, 86 percent of the 5.35 million Finnish population lives within two kilometers of a 100Mbps connection, and the expectation is that this will grow to 95 percent by 2015.”

10.   How Long Will Programmers Be So Well-Paid?

The thing is not so much supply and demand, but demand. Good programmers (and good engineers) are not a product of the educational system – they are born with a talent, and a good education can make that talent flourish. So, as long as there is demand for programming talent, talented programmers will be scarce and well paid.

“But why has the supply of good engineers remained so strained? We’re talking about work that can, in principle, be performed by anyone anywhere with a half-decent computer and a decent Internet connection. Development tools have never been more accessible than in this era of $100 Android phones, free-tier web services, and industry-standard open-source platforms. Distributed companies with employees scattered all around the world are increasingly normal and acceptable. (I work for one. We’re hiring.) And everyone knows that software experts make big bucks, because software is eating the world. What’s more, technology may well be destroying jobs faster than it creates them. Basic economics would seem to dictate that an exponentially larger number of people will flood into the field, bringing salaries back down to earth despite the ever-increasing demand.”

11.   Why I’m Returning My Microsoft Surface RT

Whenever a new product is released, the odd fanboy/blogger will write a post which explains how sorely disappointed he is that his beloved company released a product not up to his expectations. (see This is one such article, and, normally I’d ignore it, however, the criticism does seem pretty well founded.

“The hardware makes promises that the software can’t deliver – and the ability to type faster than Word can digest is a great example of that.  Sure, I understand that the shipped version is “Microsoft Word Preview,” but you can’t deliver software like this.  It’s a recipe for returned products – and frankly, that’s exactly what I’m going to do with the Surface RT, return it.”

12.   China’s advantage erodes in a key area: rare earth minerals

The thing about ‘rare earths’ is that they aren’t very rare. You’d think somebody would have pointed out to the Chinese government that restricting access to these relatively abundant materials would simple mean people would find alternative suppliers so China would see its market power erode.

“Just like any other supplier, we are trying not to be dependent on Chinese sources. Reliable sources of supply are clearly one of the top priorities.”

13.   Carbon nanotubes fit by the thousands onto a chip

There is lots of interesting stuff going on in nanotech, but manufacturing challenges (and related costs) limit commercial applications in many cases. This may prove to be a significant advance.

“The experiments, reported in Nature Nanotechnology, show a kind of two-part epoxy approach to individually place the nanotubes at high density.”

14.   Stanford Researchers Use Synthetic Magnetism to Control Light

Of course, they aren’t using magnetism to control light, they have created a device which control light similar to the way a magnet controls electricity. That being said, based on my understanding of the article, this could lead to the development of better optical isolators, multi and de-multiplexors, and switches.

“The process breaks a key law of physics known as the time-reversal symmetry of light and could yield an entirely new class of devices that use light instead of electricity for applications ranging from accelerators and microscopes to speedier on-chip communications.”

15.   Single chip planned for radio receivers across Europe

When I saw the headline I thought they were referring t wireless data services, but they are actually referring to radio broadcast. Unfortunately, by the time they get this figured out, the number of people below the age of 30 who actually listen to radio will probably be pretty small.

“Digital radio across Europe has been plagued by uncertainty. We may be reaching a tipping point, but first we have to bank what is certain about radio’s digital hybrid future and join forces to promote a common vision across Europe.”

16.   Software adds brawn to 3D-printed objects

This seems like a case of the tools catching up to the technology, though I suspect this capability has been present in non-3D printer CAD toold for some time. Still, it’s a good idea.

“Former Purdue doctoral student Ondrej Stava created the software application, which automatically strengthens objects either by increasing the thickness of key structural elements or by adding struts. The tool also uses a third option, reducing the stress on structural elements by hollowing out overweight elements.”

17.   More Than A Dozen Fisker Karma Hybrids Caught Fire And Exploded In New Jersey Port After Sandy

The cars probably would have been a write off even if they hadn’t caught fire. However, the fact that immersion results in the complete destruction of the vehicle is hardly reassuring from a safety standpoint. I liked the part where the company rep points out that nobody was killed, as though the fact their automobiles self-destruct when wet is not a major issue.

“Approximately 16 of the $100,000+ Fisker Karma extended-range luxury hybrids were parked in Port Newark, New Jersey last night when water from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge apparently breached the port and submerged the vehicles. As Jalopnik has exclusively learned, the cars then caught fire and burned to the ground.”

18.   Biofuels Companies Drop Biomass and Turn to Natural Gas

The irony – it burns – especially when they speak of fracking one of the many technologies painted as evil incarnate by their (pseudo) environmentalist proponents. The thing is, the advancement of human civilization is pretty much pegged to improved exploitation of cheaper energy sources. It seems to me that it is easier to adapt to using natural gas than to waste so much of it making diesel.

“The company, like many others, is attempting to capitalize on cheap natural gas made possible by fracking (see “Natural Gas Changes the Energy Map” and “King Natural Gas”). Some, like Primus Green Energy, are developing variants of existing thermochemical approaches—it’s using a process from Exxon to produce gasoline. Coskata, a biofuels company that had originally intended to make ethanol from wood chips and other cellulosic sources, recently announced that its first commercial plant will use no biomass.”

19.   BP Plant Cancellation Darkens Cellulosic Ethanol’s Future

This story may be related, indirectly, to the previous one. It’s absurd to use food (corn) for fuel, especially when research has shown you get less fuel out than you put in. Cellulose might make sense, if it was cost effective. Not surprisingly, increased demand for cellulose ‘waste’ means higher prices.  Go figure. In any event, all this is happening while decreased natural gas prices, due mostly to novel extraction technologies, has led to a decline in coal consumption and a signification reduction in CO2 emissions. Indeed, fracking has probably done more to reduce CO2 emissions than all other alternative energy programs.

“Whereas early estimates—the ones that helped spur the cellulosic ethanol mandates—put the cost at $30 a ton, the actual costs are more like $80 to $130 a ton. That means the grass and wood chips required to make a gallon of ethanol will cost $1.30 to $1.48—even before anything is done to process them. (For context, the price of a gallon of processed ethanol made from corn is now $2.40 a gallon.)”

20.   Curiosity set to weigh in on Mars methane puzzle

There have been a number of unusual observations which might imply microbial life on Mars, my favorite being the Viking mission ( ) . Methane has been detected on Mars in the past, and it will be interesting to see if Curiosity detects enough of it in this mission. A negative result will not necessarily mean no life, and even a positive result will leave doubts until a sample is returned to Earth. If life exists and it is DNA or RNA based, the question will remain as to whether it arose independently or whether one planet ‘seeded’ the other.

“Although there are plenty of ways to make trace amounts of methane, levels of more than a few parts per billion would imply the presence of an unexpectedly active source — and raise the possibility that the planet supports methane-producing microbes.”