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

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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.

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